Tuesday, May 24, 2016
What To Do When Your Mixes Don’t Translate
You hear it all over the place. “Help! My mixes don’t translate!”
In other words, “My mix sounds awesome in my studio, but then when I play it anywhere else – in my car, on my stereo, on my iPod – it sounds awful.”
What’s the problem? It could be any number of things – your monitors, your room, your headphones…maybe even your recordings themselves.
But let’s step away from talking about gear, and let’s focus on your ears.
It’s no secret that mixing is a learning experience. It simply takes time. Every mix I do, I get a little bit better. I mix a little faster. I’m able to get the sounds I want more quickly. I know how to solve common problems. I pick up little tricks along the way.
What’s one thing you can do right now to start improving your mixes?
The answer? Start listening to professional mixes in your studio.
This may seem like a stupid suggestion, but take a second to think about it.
Where do you listen to music the most? When you get a new album, where do you go to listen to it? Your car? Your stereo? Your phone?
Ask yourself this question: of all the time you spend listening to music, what percentage of that time are you actually in your studio, listening on your studio monitors or studio headphones?
This is really important.
You’re spending hours trying to get your mixes to sound good, to translate to other systems, but do you really know what a good mix sounds like through your system?
If you’re not spending a lot of time listening to good, professional mixes in your studio, you’re mixes are in trouble.
How can you expect to get pro mixes if you don’t have an intimate familiarity with how pro mixes sound in your studio?
Pull out a dollar bill. Take a look at it. Could you tell if it was a fake? Chances are the answer is no.
There are professionals out there who are experts at spotting counterfeit bills. How do they do it?
Do they spend a lot of time studying counterfeits? Or do they spend a lot of time studying the real thing?
Answer: They study the real thing.
Once you know what the real thing looks like, you can easily spot a fake.
You’re doing the same thing in your studio. You’re trying to pass your mix off as professional, but how will you know it’s professional if you don’t spend a lot of time getting to know what makes a mix professional?
A few suggestions
Check your email in your studio, and listen while you do it.
Eat breakfast in your studio (safely!), and listen while you eat.
When you buy a new album, set aside an hour to listen to it entirely in your studio before you go listening on earbuds or in your car.
These are just a few suggestions. The point is, do what you can to train your ears to hear a pro mix, and to hear it in your studio.
Joe Gilder is a Nashville based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.
Monday, May 23, 2016
The Rocketeers Music Studio Invests In Solid State Logic Duality Console
Dutch production facility adds SSL Duality δelta SuperAnalogue console for creating radio and television jingles and leaders.
Dutch two-in-one production facility, The Rocketeers - incorporating The Producer’s House - has invested in a Solid State Logic Duality δelta SuperAnalogueTM console for a new and versatile approach to their ideal sounds.
Experienced radio producers Joost Griffioen and Stas Swaczyna met in in 2007, and by 2008 The Rocketeers music production company was up and running. The company’s mission was to supply radio and television with custom-made jingles and leaders and the pair have gone on to work with many stations, including Radio 10, Radio 538, 100%NL, and 3 FM, NPO TV, RTL TV, and TALPA.
In 2014, the pair were joined by Hansen Tomas who has since become the main face of The Producers House. This new development in the business offers song-writing, production, mixing, and mastering services to artists and record companies, and is quickly developing demand in the UK and the US.
Both operations use the same facility in Hilversum, just outside Amsterdam - created from an existing but long-abandoned music facility. It took Griffioen and Swaczyna just three months to get it up and running with two music production rooms plus a main studio, featuring a comfortable control room and a good-sized live space with separate drum room.
Their most recent addition is a 24-channel SSL Duality δelta console (with SSL Alpha-Link conversion and δelta -Link Pro Tools HD interfacing) - bought primarily because the team wanted to bring something special to their sounds, and their clients.
“When we started the studio in 2008 we mainly worked in the box and everything was going through plugins,” explains Swaczyna. “But Joost and I wanted to create a new analog sound for jingles and leaders… something wider and bigger.
“We started with another desk… But then we checked out a few other studios and sounds, and so on, and we came across the SSL sound. The biggest hits on earth are mixed on an SSL, so our ultimate dream was to mix our own jingles, leaders and songs on one.”
Benelux SSL partner Joystick Audio arranged a demo of Duality δelta and The Rocketeers were hooked, not just on the SuperAnalogue sound, but on the dual DAW control and the δelta DAW-based console automation technology: “Of course it sounds fantastic, but it’s especially great for the way we integrate DAWs into our workflow…” says Swaczyna. “It’s the best of analog sound and digital control in one board.”
The Rocketeers Music Studio console has 24 input channels and a master section, but also incorporates 19-inch racks into additional frame space either side of the main console tiles.
One of Swaczyna’s favorite features is the versatile SSL Variable Harmonic Drive (VHD) circuit, available on every channel of a Duality console. The operator can choose the ultra-clean SSL preamp, or can switch in VHD. As input gain is increased, the circuit introduces either 2nd or 3rd harmonic distortion, or a blend of the two, for anything from a little warmth or edge to fierce grunge. Swaczyna: “That sounds great on drums, strings… anything. It sounds really cool.”
Solid State Logic
The Producer’s House
Spotlight On Signal Processing
Go here to read part 1 of this series.
“In the beginning there was graphic EQ.”
The first standard tool for system equalization was the graphic equalizer. Early versions were 10 bands at octave intervals, but the 1/3rd-octave version took over the market completely by the late 1970s.
The 31 bands were standardized to a series of 1/3rd-octave intervals beginning with 31 Hz. There was no standardization of the shape of the filters, however. One model might use 1/3 octave filters, another would use octave filters.
One of the primary attractions of the graphic equalizer was that its front panel settings seemed to represent the response it was creating (hence the name “graphic”).
This was mostly true if the settings were all flat, but once the sliders were moved the resemblance faded because the parallel filters also affect the range of their neighbors. The parallel filter interaction dramatically affected how closely the “graphic” shape of the front panel actually resembled the curve that was being created.
The reality is that the picture on the graphic EQ front panel was never accurate but some (especially the ones with wide filters) were wildly inaccurate. This confused people because they attempted to use these tools for what I call “ear to eye training.” Engineers learned to distrust the “graphic” settings. They knew it wasn’t doing what it showed on the front panel – but they didn’t know what it “was” doing. The inaccuracy of the graphic EQ created a lot of false conclusions.
Graphic equalizers with narrow filters create a ripple in the response, which increases as the cuts deepen. The center frequencies cut deeper than the mid-point between. Wider filters reduce the ripple, but increase the overlap, which decreases the accuracy of the front panel. Graphics with narrow filters more closely correlate to the panel but have higher ripple. I know of only one graphic EQ that old engineers still have romantic feelings for: the Klark Teknik DN360 (wide filters, low ripple and low accuracy). Bottom line: front panel accuracy doesn’t matter much when you are tuning by ear, but ripple does.
The Graphic Details
A substantial culture arose of what I would call the “graphic EQ code of conduct,” a set of visual rules that governed the fader placement. The foremost of these was the “move the neighbors” rule, which mandated that a deep cut at 500 Hz meant you had to move the 315, 400, 630 and 800 Hz faders down as well to make it look like a gradual curve. Never mind that this causes 500 Hz to cut much deeper and wider than you intended.
The ubiquitous (at the time) Klark Teknik DN360 graphic EQ, joined by other popular models from BSS (FCS-960) and dbx (231).
Another of the folk legends was the belief that cutting more than 6 dB would create a “phase problem” of some mysterious unquantifiable variety. This was taken seriously: Everyone knows you don’t push that fader past 6 dB! I can’t say this phasor vortex never happened to somebody, but I can say I never saw such a thing occur on my analyzer (which reads phase). The phase problems that we did see were primarily the side effects of amplitude problems associated with ripple and having the wrong center frequency and bandwidth to do the job.
This gets to the heart of the graphic EQ’s principal shortcoming: fixed center frequencies and bandwidth choices. Simply put, the graphic could never succeed as an optimization tool because the problems it is trying to solve do not have a single fixed bandwidth and are not obliged to fall on the ISO approved center frequencies. Our challenge is more complex than that.
At one of the first concerts that John Meyer and I measured with SIM, we came up against the graphic EQ rule mentality.
We measured a 10 dB peak at 100 Hz and knocked it out with a single cut on the graphic EQ. We high-fived each other at the perfection of the lucky match of center frequency and bandwidth as we watched the amplitude and phase flatten out.
A short time later the system engineer saw the single deep cut on the graphic and freaked out. He then reworked the settings and made them look nice and gentle on the graphic, which looked good there but no longer solved the problem.
He explained to us that he needed to do this because we were messing up the phase response. It never occurred to him that we could actually see the phase response right there on the analyzer. On that evening John and I knew that we could never beat the graphic EQ police and needed to make a better tool.
The inadequacies of the graphic equalizer became totally apparent once we began to see high-resolution frequency response data. Our analyzer could now show us a problem centered at 450 Hz, but we were stuck with the graphic EQ’s fixed filters at 400 Hz and 500 Hz in that area. The inability of the graphic EQ to create a complementary response to what we measured was impossible to ignore.
The parametric equalizer was immediately seen as the superior tool, since it had independently adjustable center frequency, bandwidth and level. Anything that we could see on the analyzer that was worth equalizing could be precisely complemented with the parametric filters.
The high-resolution transfer function analyzer put an end to the usage of the graphic EQ (although it took a long time to die). Now we could see the phase response (one mystery solved) and we could also see the actual amplitude response of the combined filters (second mystery). The analyzer proved that the graphic could never satisfy our needs. The graphic EQ is now used only for gross tonal shaping by ear, i.e., an artistic tool or for combat EQ (stage monitors), not a system optimization tool.
There were several reasons why parametric equalizers had attained such minimal acceptance before that time. The first was that people had trouble visualizing in their mind what the filters were doing. Filters could be set anywhere – including right on top of each other. You had to look at all the settings and then conjure in your mind what it all meant. This made many engineers understandably insecure. Most modern parametrics accurately display their response on their front panel display or software program, even incorporating filter interaction. The parametric response is no longer a mystery.
The second issue was that most commercially available parametric EQs used a filter topology that was poorly suited to system optimization. The filters were asymmetric, having a different type of response for peaks and dips. The dip side of these devices used a notch filter topology, which does not properly complement the peaks it’s trying to treat in the sound system. The notch-type parametrics with wide peaks and narrow dips actually mimic the problematic comb filter effects rather than compensate them.
SIM measurements that highlight some of the problems with graphic EQ.
The high-resolution measurements taken with SIM showed us the advantages of complementary phase equalization: a parametric EQ with symmetric second-order filters with minimum phase shift, which became the guiding principles behind the 1984 development of Meyer Sound’s CP-10 equalizer. We could now put the “equal” in equalization by producing an equal and opposite amplitude and phase response to the peaks and dips found in the field.
As previously stated, there was a lot of resistance to parametric EQ in those days because of the lack of a graphic user interface. The SIM analyzer gave us something better than a graphic interface. We could view the actual measured amplitude and phase of the EQ without repatching or taking it off line.
Transfer function measurement allows us to probe across any two points in the signal path of our sound system. We can monitor the EQ output versus the EQ input and see precisely what response the device is creating. From the outset, the SIM system was always set up to be able to view the EQ electrical response as well as the response of the speaker system in the room.
The Digital Age
The digital era dawned with the introduction of digital delay lines. These replaced the previous generation of analog delays (yes there were such things but their dynamic and temporal range was very poor).
The first-generation digital delay was a noise floor choke point, so it was used only sparingly, when absolutely needed. The digital delay within the modern DSP is different from its first-generation version only for its higher dynamic range and resolution (and better A/D conversions).
The systems of that era had digital delays, analog equalizers, and analog level distribution, all in separate devices, each of which had only a few inputs and outputs.
Once digital equalizers started to hit the market we quickly reached a tipping point in favor of merging all of these functions under one roof. Go to a rental house tomorrow and ask for a component digital delay or analog EQ. There will be hundreds to choose from once you blow the dust off.
There is great advantage to minimizing the number of A/D conversions, the wiring, patch bays, ground references, power supplies, etc. All of these functions are now done with multichannel input and output devices.
We have evolved to two families of DSP: open topology and fixed topology. The open topology systems (e.g., BSS Soundweb, QSC Q-Sys, Peavey MediaMatrix) are inputs, outputs and a mountain of malleable memory. They are an open interior waiting for us to arrange the furniture. Users can pull “devices” off the virtual shelf and “wire” them up to customize them as needed.
Meyer Sound CP-10 parametric EQs in the racks at Carnegie Hall circa 1988.
Fixed topology devices (e.g., Lake Controller, Meyer Sound Galileo) have pre-ordered the parameters and signal routing, incorporating all the features relevant to system optimization (and more). The filters in the modern DSP mime the filters of our analog world but can also go beyond them to make exotics. Very few of our optimization needs can’t be solved by the analog filter shapes (parametrics, band filters and all-pass filters), so these are the still the workhorses.
The digital exotics such as FIR filters and free-pass filters require adult supervision. But there’s good news: a digital version of the graphic EQ can still be found as an option in most of these devices. Works great with vinyl.
Bob McCarthy has been designing and tuning sound systems for over 30 years. The third edition of his book Sound Systems: Design and Optimization is available at Focal Press. He lives in NYC and is the director of system optimization for Meyer Sound.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Arturia Introduces Analog Lab 2
New version accesses all 17 of Arturia’s virtual instruments as a single application with a selection of sounds from its V Collection 5 software bundle
Music software and hardware developer Arturia announces availability of Analog Lab 2, an all-new incarnation of its composite virtual instrument that gathers together a broad selection of sounds from its V Collection 5 software bundle.
Analog Lab 2 is a way of accessing a selection of sounds from all 17 of Arturia’s virtual instruments as a single application. Included are sounds from eight emulated analog synthesizers (ARP 2600 V, CS-80V, JUP-8V, Matrix-12 V, Mini V, Modular V, Prophet V, and SEM V), two digital synthesizers (Prophet VS and Synclavier V), two electric pianos (Stage-73 V and Wurli V), an acoustic piano (Piano V), and three electronic organs (B-3 V, Farfisa V, and VOX Continental V). Those virtual instruments recreate hardware synthesizers and classic keyboards of the past and conveniently transport them to the present-day desktop.
Analog Lab 2 invites exploration as an AAX-, AU-, VST-, and VST3-compatible plugin in any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) or as a standalone version. Its redesigned, resizable (Retina/4K-compatible) GUI (Graphical User Interface) is as easy on the eye as it is to use. Studio View shows the original historic hardware, helpfully bringing up the best presets from each instrument in question.
Accessing those sounds is simple, thanks to a new preset browser. Browse presets by types, banks, sonic characteristics, and instruments (crossing categories). Create playlists or simply Search for presets by name. With 4,500-plus presets to choose from there’s always a sound to suit every mood, every ambiance, and every music style — sounds that transcend time and fashion.
For those wishing to dig deeper then the dual-instrument multi feature with independent MIDI settings panel for each instrument will make their musical day. Drag and drop splits and layers of those presets to take ownership of the sound. Sounds and multis can be organized in the playlist area for instant recall via program change messages.
Analog Lab 2 is more than just a sound library. It’s a sound design tool and live performance instrument integral to improving everyday workflow. When connected to one of Arturia’s many MIDI (Musical Digital Instrument Interface) controller devices, Analog Lab 2 will automatically adapt to reflect their physical controls. Generic MIDI controllers can also be used with MIDI learn to easily map all parameters to a MIDI CC (Control Change).
Changing the sound of Analog Lab 2 is even easier thanks to two effects slots with pre/post fader switch per instrument. Included Bitcrusher, Chorus, Delay, Destroy, Dub Delay, Eq4, Flanger, Overdrive, Phaser, Pitchshift, Reverb, Roundpanner, and Vocal Filter effects.
The AAX-, AU-, VST2-, and VST3-compatible Analog Lab 2 is available to purchase as a boxed version from any authorized Arturia dealer or online as a download directly from Arturia for €89.00 EUR/$89.00 USD.
Analog Lab 2 is included in Arturia’s simultaneously-available V Collection 5 bundle of 17 keyboards, available to purchase as a boxed version from any authorized Arturia dealer or online as a boxed version or download directly from Arturia for an introductory promotional price of €399.00 EUR/$399.00 USD — rising thereafter to €499.00 EUR/$499.00 USD. (Existing Arturia customers additionally benefit from preferential pricing according to the number of qualifying products that they already own.)
Church Sound: Challenging Digital Myths
How many times have you heard this phrase: “If we had a digital sound board, we could save so much time on sound checks and it would sound the same every week.”
Or this one: “We have a digital board, so why does my monitor mix change every week?”
Or my personal favorite: “Are the sound guys not saving the settings each week, because it’s so different every weekend…”
These questions and comments have one thing in common—they all assume sound is an electrical process that, once converted to bits is entirely reproducible week after week.
Sorry to dash your hopes, but nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that sound is a physical process that happens to have an electrical and digital component.
The real reason the mix doesn’t sound the same this week as it did last week is simple. Today is not last week. Here’s what I mean.
Sound, being a physical process, is subject to the physical world. Last week was warmer or colder than this week. The humidity was different. The strings on the guitar were newer (or older if recently changed). The singer was more or less tired last week. The drum heads were tighter or looser.
You get the point. The fact is, then is not now.
I have seen mixes change dramatically from one service to the next, even though “nothing” had changed. In fact, everything has changed (well almost everything—we didn’t touch the electronics).
When I was at Crosswinds, we did a Saturday night service (that was preceded by a afternoon rehearsal), and two services on Sunday morning. By the time we got to Saturday night’s service, the room was warmed up and we had snuck up on a good mix.
In the morning, however, it could be 10 degrees cooler in the room. The earlier service was often lighter in attendance. In the summer it was more humid, in the winter it was drier. When we started up in the morning, everything was different.
Then came the later service. After getting the early morning service on track, the whole mix was shot for the live walk in at the 10:45. What happened? Everything changed. The room was now warmed up, and full.
You see, having a digital board doesn’t take away the responsibility to conduct a proper sound check. It doesn’t free the engineer from having to mix. It doesn’t allow the musicians to not communicate what they want in their mixes. Even with a digital board, there’s a lot of work to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like having a digital console. It enables us to quickly switch from one type of service to the next without a lot of re-patching. But really, that’s it.
The settings we recall each week are nothing more than a starting point. In fact, I’ve been advocating that our starting points start with zeroed out gain and monitor settings. Why? So those get done each week the right way.
At first, that may seem like it’s counter-intuitive, going backwards from having a baseline of last week’s “good mix.” I’ll say it again; this week is not last week. Even if the band is the exact same week to week, stuff changes.
In fact, the only time I would advocate starting with last week’s set up is if the entire band was exactly the same. Then and only then could you even consider it. If only one instrument or vocalist changes, you are better off starting from scratch. Still, I would argue that you’re better off starting from scratch each week (from a gain and monitor standpoint anyway) all the time.
So what about EQ? What about it? It changes with time also. Think you have a guitar dialed in exactly this week? Guess what, if the guitarist plays during the week, it’s going to sound different come next Sunday.
Same with vocals. Very few singers can perfectly replicate the same vocal performance week after week. Not to mention the fact that room is going to vary based on temperature, humidity, loading, etc..
So am I completely dismissing the recallable set ups of digital boards? Not at all. Just don’t buy into the myth that if you save this weekend’s settings it will all be the same next week. ‘Cause it won’t.
Don’t think that if you spend $20,000-$50,000 on a digital board that any monkey can sit back there and make great sounding mixes after someone who knows what they’re doing has “set it all up.”
There is still no substitute for a good mix engineer, and for ongoing training to make them better. And if the person who is sitting behind the mixing desk week to week can’t hear the difference between a good mix and a bad one, no amount of digital recall-ability is going to fix that.
Mike Sessler has been involved with church sound and live production for than 25 years, and is the author of the Church Tech Arts blog. Based in Nashville, he serves as project lead for CCI Solutions, which provides design-build production solutions for churches and other facilities.
Posted by Keith Clark on 05/19 at 06:07 AM
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Loyola Marymount University Commissions Custom API Console
LMU in Los Angeles orders custom 32-channel Legacy Plus analog recording console for Recording Arts program.
Automated Processes (API) announces the order of a custom Legacy Plus Recording console for Loyola Marymount University.
The 32 Channel Legacy Plus analog console is currently in build at API’s Maryland manufacturing facility, and is scheduled for a July delivery to LMU in Los Angeles, CA.
‘We are really excited to add Loyola Marymount to our ‘API owner’ family of academic facilities,’ says Dan Zimbelman, API’s director of Sales. ‘We have been privileged to work with many colleges and universities over the years, and are confident that the acquisition of the Legacy Plus console is going to help the LMU program take a giant leap forward.’
“We selected an API Legacy Plus for our Recording Arts program because we wanted a classic sounding console that blended the elegance of an analog design with the features of a large format console,” says program director Duck Bennett. “Moving up from a retired Trident 80B, our students were already familiar with analog signal flow, but this upgrade will allow them to learn about contemporary features they’ve never had a chance to use before, features they are likely to find once they graduate. I pushed the Department to consider API because I’m a true fan of the technology and I wanted to bring what I’ve used in the ‘real world’ into the classroom. Recording on an API is always a great experience - I love the way they work, look, and sound and now I get to share this experience with my students. In the past when I wanted to show students the value of an analog desk, I’d have to take them to my personal studio which is equipped with a vintage Neve 8014. In the future I’ll just walk into the classroom and plug in a mic.
“The Recording Arts program at LMU focuses on giving its students a broad base in audio by exposing them to production, post production, live sound, and music recording. The addition of this console will really ‘up the game’ of the music side of our program and we hope it will also influence the decision making process of prospective students who are looking to attend a top notch recording school. The console will be installed before the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester and I already have the students pumped up for the sonic possibilities that await them when they return.”
Posted by House Editor on 05/18 at 10:18 AM
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
RE/P Files: An Interview With Mr. X
From the July 1990 issue of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, technical editor Mike Joseph interviews a studio owner competing against the big boys and flying under the radar.
In an effort to promote balanced journalism, RE/P has endeavored to present both sides of the ongoing issues surrounding commercially directed, so-called home project studios.
More of a strong concern in the U.S. major coastal markets, the ethical and legal aspects of low-overhead, for-profit, residentially based audio production facilities need to be discussed, understood, and come to terms with, whatever one’s personal or professional feelings.
Residential studios that sell time won’t go away, and the proliferation of less-expensive, higher-power hardware merely mitigates the ease with which high-quality work can be accomplished.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with a gentleman who operates such a facility. As he readily admits, his complex—consisting of four recording rooms and one control room - exists primarily to service his personal productions and projects. Unlike some, he does not advertise commercially, although the facility is available for rent to outside projects with the stipulation that he qualifies the types of projects and people who use his facility. They are, after all, entering his home.
Mr. X, who goes by that moniker at our request, is outspoken, opinionated, intelligent and highly representative of the attitudes we hear as we poll small facility owners, musicians, composers, and independent engineers and producers around the country.
Whether or not you’re comfortable with it, these rooms are having a positive effect on the industry. If history repeats itself, their genre will grow to fill in the boundaries of a much larger base strata. They are, to borrow a concept from the study of sociology and cultural development, the New Immigrants, or, if you will, the next generation. They may be commercially disenfranchised, but they are an economic power to both equipment manufacturers and the industry in general. Ironically, where they are today is also where so many professionally established studios were themselves, not too long ago.
“I’m in the business of creating music. I’m not in the business of renting acoustically rarefied architecture and electronic signal manipulation devices. I don’t think that renting studio time only is a bad thing to be doing; it’s just not what I do for a living.
“Better than 50% of the activity in my room is my personal work, material that has my name on it. For me, it’s not a good idea to let the business of renting a studio take over my life. What I want to be doing is music. I don’t even want the studio to be too successful on its own.
“There is a crew of guys who come in to my studio regularly. Their material is spiritual, Christian music, very contemporary. They are first -class musicians, all of them. They actually make money off their material. At shows and events, they pack the house, big churches, to hear these guys play. After the performance, half of the people come up to buy tapes. It’s non-traditional distribution, but it works very well for them.
“What they need, and I provide at a viable price point, is the vehicle to get their stuff onto tape in such a way that it’s worth selling. When they come in, I am working with their organization as a producer, although I also function as an engineer and provide recording space. They wouldn’t be able to put out product at a viable economic rate if they weren’t working with a facility like mine.
“The people who come into my studio have no real alternative. They can’t afford to go to a ‘regular studio: The reason this facility exists for me is that my clients and I can’t afford other choices. They’re too expensive. They’re not too expensive for people who are doing work that is blessed by the high-end record industry or the broadcast industry. But if you are doing creative work that is outside that, then somebody is having to finance that situation out of their pocket. There is more work at that level in America than you think. A majority, I would guess.
“Before I owned my own gear, and long before I owned enough gear to let others record with me, I worked in regular commercial studios. Even when I was totally organized and prepared, when I hit a big studio, I was hustling. Forget about experimenting with this type of reverb against that kind of horn sound. Forget about it. Just do what you planned to do, because you can’t afford to do anything creative.
“Not to mention that at the end of all your money, you have one product to show. And your money is spent. Now I can spend 24 hours a day working on my stuff, and the gear is there tomorrow to continue. There is no end to the number of projects I can afford to do. The point is that you can’t go into a regular recording studio today and walk out with an artistic product for a reasonable, personally affordable amount of money. There’s no way that my Christian friends, who have a viable business and do it to support themselves, could generate the product that creates their business and get it to the point where it’s profitable.
The Role Of Small Studios
“Small studios, whether analog or digital, will contribute new musical ideas. The flexibility to develop these ideas cannot be fostered by big industry. They have to sell too much lowest common denominator to fuel the machine. They are going to stick with knowns. Madonna will come out, and everyone will pull out their Madonna clones. Chop a piece of the known pie, so they can get a given amount of percentage of a known total. Heaven forbid they have to bake a new pie.
“Where were they when Windham Hill was going it alone? Sitting back, laughing, saying it would never take off. And when New Age became a multi-million dollar industry in its own right? Then it was ‘Oh sh**, we better cover this! Let’s start a label and call it Crystals and Light and get some young Marin synthesist to do string swells for 45 minutes: “The new things come to light in small studios, driven by small budgets and distributed by small labels. Driven by the desire of creative people to pursue their musical ideas.
Quality Of The End Product
“When people listen to my albums, they don’t say, `Gee, that sounds very good for being produced in a cheap little room.” If you have the basic gear, and you know how to use it, you can make it sound as good as any music anywhere.
“Bear in mind that a big chunk of what all that is about, of course, is the music itself. That’s what the people are listening to. Expensive effects and 20-bit spatial ambiance are nice, but people don’t buy albums to hear that. It’s the music. OK, my 5534 and TLO 72 op-amped board will not give the crystalline dimension that a Trident A series or, even better, a classic discrete Neve will. And my analog 16-track isn’t going to put out what a Studer or Sony digital will.
“But what my clients are buying is primarily the ideas, ideas that have been organized and put together artistically well. Musicians who come in and work with me are every bit as good as the guys who work in the big studios. But they can’t afford to work there. I couldn’t afford to take them in there any more as a producer. They wouldn’t have a chance - not enough time or budget to get their ideas across.
“Now, a higher studio rate certainly buys intangibles and behind-the-scenes stuff: phone lines and secretaries, decor and how heavy the service duty cycle is on the tape deck’s servo capstan motor. But the average listener doesn’t care about the lobby furniture or listen closely to how smooth the top end of the cymbals are. They’re listening to the songs. If those songs can’t even get delivered to them, in any form - if the artist can’t afford to record - then they don’t even get to hear it. That, I think, robs the industry.
“My neighbors are no problem. We maintain a very low profile. We have a driveway that comes down the side of the house, so that when people come in, they park there and unload, and they’re in a recording studio. The whole time they’re here, except when they step out for a cigarette or something, it’s quiet. The studio is soundproof, of course. People can’t hear us, we can’t hear them. The street has traffic, so we don’t impact the neighborhood.
“Most folks probably don’t have a clue what’s going on here. What would they say if they knew? I don’t think they’d care. No more than the corner grocery up the block, or the palm reader or hair stylist a block away. It doesn’t impinge on their lifestyle. My business can be operated without undue attention.
“We take every advantage we can to keep costs down. Is some of that illegal? Maybe. That’s why you’re referring to me as Mr. X. I am using guerrilla tactics to move ahead in an industry that is not very encouraging to independent creative guys like me. Yet the industry would have to admit that it benefits from us at the same time. I develop the music and artists and techniques for presentation to folks at the higher, commercial level, at which point they take it, make huge profits, and grind it up as so much fodder.
“Did rap and house music start in Capital or Warner Bros. studios? No way! Are they making money off of it now, after it’s been fully developed by people like me, who barely made a dime off it, after the hard work was done? Damn straight! The industry’s a machine, and I’m just another guy on the front line who finds and processes the fuel it runs on. Fortunately, I get off on doing that. A guy can come into our studio and start generating the stuff that makes him attractive to the next layer up.
“Most of the studio owner bitchers and moaners don’t realize that we are a feeder system, the farm league, for their future income. We are developing the people who hopefully, if their product sells on some level and they get proficient at producing audio, will gather a larger following until somebody recognizes them and injects a budget to allow them the luxury of working in a fancier environment, a more technically equipped facility, like one of the moaner’s rooms, under the watchful multi-million dollar eye of A &R. One can only hope the art won’t get sucked out.
“I can’t over-emphasize that the very basis of the existence of my studio is economy. One, most recording studios are just too expensive. They usually have to charge what they do, of course. No one’s blaming them. I know what equipment costs. I just chose not to do big bank loans to overreach and have my debt dictate my rates.
“Two, the music industry is a pack of dogs, sniffing each other’s butts, and once in a while one of them issues forth with some crap like Milli Vanilli, and the rest of them start chasing their tails to produce their version of the same thing. You cannot, as a creative individual, bust into something like that and get the big budgets that allow you to produce your material if you are coming in with something really unusual.
“If you are a normal creative person, and you create music, and your music is really something that will sell in today’s splintered economic environment, then how do you manufacture it? Never mind distributing it to the marketplace. If you have a budget of dollars that you’ve saved from being a librarian or a construction worker of $4,000 or $5,000, you can’t go to a regular 16- or 24-track studio. You’ll kill your budget and you won’t finish your project. You not only won’t be able to attract manufacturers and distributors, you won’t get something you can deliver to your gigs and sell.
Artistic Expression vs Equipment
“The commercial studios will, of course, argue that the level of production, even the artistic skill level of the employees, is better in a commercial studio, and that the level of equipment is better, and therefore the product is better. I completely disagree with this. The level of artistic production, the skills that go into what I work on, artistic expression and creativity, are the same in any room.
“Yes, in an upscale room you can work with more and better tools than we have. Consequently, you are better able to exact higher fidelity individual sounds than we might be able to do, right now. I emphasize right now because digital disk-based technology and R-DAT will truly give everyone great fidelity for not much money very soon. But that’s not to say that first -rate, marketable, sellable product can’t come out of a studio like this, 16- track, small-format analog. Remember the Sergeant Pepper lesson: dual 4- tracks.
“The analogy to all this is the beautiful granite and marble sculptures that the Italian artisan’s of the Middle Ages created with hand tools, wooden hammers and alloy chisels. The beauty of that art has yet to be surpassed by compressed air-driven chisels and laser etching and alignment tools. Tools are important, but they aren’t a substitute for craft. And you can’t rush craft. Studio rates, dictating tighter budgets and compressed production schedules on independent projects, of course, rush craft. We don’t. Our rates don’t cause it. The chisel can’t be allowed to become more notorious than the artist. Is it that hard to grasp?
“We’ve spent a fair amount of money putting production into an illegal spot. Actually, we’re only quasi-legal. We’re zoned for some kinds of business in this neighborhood. There are small corner stores and things, but to be honest with you, I don’t know if we’re zoned for this kind of business. Am I curious if we are? Not really. I’m going to do it no matter what. We don’t really advertise the space for rent. We do produce outside people, but, predominantly, people come to me because they want to be produced by me.
“Note that I am paying my personal taxes, and I tell the IRS that I’m a production company working at home. I’m completely legal there. I don’t pay city or county or state business fees, or board of equalization sales tax stuff, but then I don’t resell things. People bring in blank tapes that they buy at audio shops. The government can’t get me for personal tax evasion, state or federal. I work with my accountant extensively. That’s all legal, except for the business license fees, and maybe zoning.
The Business Of Business
“If I wanted to be in the studio business alone, I’d move. I’d want to go upscale, to corporate projects and sponsored sessions that pay real money. And that takes a pretty lounge and wall coverings and a pool table. Otherwise, you’d spend all your time dealing with pubescent headbangers at $20 per hour. That makes as much sense business-wise as spitting in the wind. Studios that bitch about not being able to get all the slices of the pie that they could get five years or 10 years ago are just stupid. They are bad businessmen who deserve to go out of business for not changing with the times.
“At all levels, people who are doing what I’m doing, plus or minus, are having an impact on the recording and production studio world. I’m not going to ever say, ‘Hey, I’m not hurting anybody.’ I’m not hurting anybody who is running a medium or large studio successfully, that’s for sure. Maybe I’m hurting the guys who are selling studio time at the lower levels.
“Well, I would suggest that they take a good look at the economic environment in 1990. The government can’t be called on to protect every company whenever there is competition. You can’t start running to daddy every time things change and say, ‘Make these guys stop: Look at the U.S. auto industry. They are trying to compete with the Japanese by making the government tell the Japanese how much they can charge for their vehicles on import. They are not competing. They are losing.
Where Big Studios Should Go
“I understand that commercial studios see a slice of their pie going away with facilities like mine working with artists off the street, if even on the lower and middle levels. Smart studio owners, if they are willing to come to terms with guys like me, should acknowledge the obvious. If, in their market, there is a lot of business like the kind I do, maybe they should open a budget facility in a less-than-fancy environment. Give the power to the people who can afford it.
“If the market has a limited amount of this business, maybe they should just let go of it and develop their business in other areas, such as corporate, ad work, record company projects or audio post-production. These are all areas I and people like me probably won’t get into, for all the obvious reasons.
“They should face up to the fact that their business is being redefined, along with the industry, along with the society and the culture. It’s a different world today, with MTV, computers, foreign imports, foreign property holdings, glasnost, you name it. People like me have nice little rooms that work, nice old microphones that work, formats that work and translate well, and we can record all of our stuff in-house.
“We can mix there if we want to, but some really smart guy should open up a franchise of mixdown-only rooms all across America to take advantage of all the home studios and their lack of investment in DSP devices, reverbs, dubbing capabilities and the opportunity to mix down to the reigning digital format of the hour. Imagine a scenario where an act says, ‘We saved all of our money because we worked in our own room, and were able to spend hours and hours getting our saxophone and guitar solos absolutely the way we wanted to, and now we’ve got a good budget to go into somebody’s control room to do a quality mix - down with all the latest toys.
“A smart businessman could develop this angle and really be profitable, because there are a lot of guys who don’t even have the gear I have. A mixdown-only room is a viable business that doesn’t exist right now. It’s a million-dollar idea. [Remember, you read it here first - Ed.]
“Something else a smart studio can do is develop the specialized areas that lend themselves to studio work. Like live albums. jazz, bop, live scoring, classical music. Things that musicians need rooms for when they play together. Become known as the room in town that records quartets, or heavy metal. Do a light show, or pyrotechnics, to let the players feel like it’s a real live show. That’s a unique market.
“If I was a competitive commercial studio, I might go after something like the religious recording crowd, creating a facility that was geared to exactly them, spiritual music. Get some recommendations, get printed up in the secular papers and magazines, create an environment, subscribe to the right magazines, do the research, and seriously and respectfully address the needs of that large and barely understood market. Become the mecca for people who deal in that kind of material. Advertise the fact. Tell the world you’re sensitive to their needs. In other words, compete through specialization.
“Look at car parts shops: some specialize in 4 -wheel drive, some VW, some foreign, some Corvette, some Mopar parts. If you’re a customer, you want to talk to someone who knows about exactly what you are doing. Parts shops learned their lesson long ago that you can’t be everything to everyone. You have to specialize to succeed. Our infant industry, only fractionally as old as the automotive, is just now learning this lesson. Even tax accountants specialize in personal, small business or corporate clients.
“It is interesting to consider what will happen to music with the popularization of the new digital technologies, like disk-based recording, where you have the ability to easily and cheaply buy gear that lets you sing one line and loop it and edit it to your heart’s content, so that every chorus is a clone of the first chorus, perfect. It has the potential of killing music as we know it. But, then again, just like the rhythm technology of the ‘80s had the potential of dousing all the drummers, you and I both know that there’s lots of work out there for drummers. You can’t tell a drum machine to ‘play it like a bowling ball just fell on your foot: You can say that to a drummer, and I do say things like that to the players. That interpretive value is there. There will always be a place for the humans, for many of the players to contribute different ideas toward one song at one moment in time.
“New technology always allows you to be creative in areas that you were never creative in before. Before the saxophone existed, saxy things couldn’t be done. It’s a new and wonderful world, and although digital technology can certainly be used to turn art into injection-molded plastic music, and it can and will be, it can also allow the creation of stuff that we’ve never heard before, more human than ever.
“Commercial studios need to realize that it is a brave new world, and the very juice that made them grow and develop from their original garage and basement spaces had better be brought back into play, so they can keep growing and changing to take advantage of what’s happening in the ‘90s. Lord knows I am, and there are lots more out there just like me. We aren’t going to go away. It’s a changing world, but there’s still lots of room for guys with ideas.”
Editor’s Note: This is a series of articles from Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, which began publishing in 1970 under the direction of Publisher/Editor Martin Gallay. After a great run, RE/P ceased publishing in the early 1990s, yet its content is still much revered in the professional audio community. RE/P also published the first issues of Live Sound International magazine as a quarterly supplement, beginning in the late 1980s, and LSI grew to become the monthly publication that continues to thrive to this day.
Friday, May 13, 2016
Prism Sound Introduces Callia PCM And DSD Capable DAC
Pre-amplifier and headphone amp accepts USB, Coaxial RCA Phono and S/PDIF with RCA and XLR out for the home audio environment.
Prism Sound is launching Callia, a PCM and DSD capable DAC, pre-amplifier and headphone amp, to bring the sound quality of the professional recording studio into the home environment.
Callia is a compact unit for use in home audio systems. It offers inherent flexibility with an array of high resolution inputs including USB (UAC2 over USB 2 or later), Coaxial RCA Phono (supporting S/PDIF and AES3-id or AES3 with suitable adaptor) and S/PDIF OPTICAL equipped digital devices. For analog audio outputs, Callia offers both balanced XLR as well as unbalanced RCA phono connectors on the rear panel. The output volume can be set via the volume control in order to use the Callia as a pre-amp straight into a power amp, or optionally fixed for use with integrated and pre/power combos.
Headphone users are also catered for with a high quality headphone amplifier with its own separate volume control potentiometer. Flexibility of headphone choice is assured, thanks to the low impedance of the headphone output, making it suitable for use with virtually all headphone types for reproduction from connected digital sources.
DAC circuits identical to the ones found in the company’s professional Lyra, Titan and Atlas recording interfaces deliver resolution and detail, allowing music to be reproduced exactly as it sounded in the studio or recording location. Now listeners at home can enjoy music played on a device designed by the same Prism Sound team with the same attention to detail and transparency that the world’s top artists, engineers and producers rely upon.
Digital signals up to 32 bit (USB only), 384kHz are catered for, alongside DSD processing, making Callia compatible with all major music releases.
Graham Boswell, sales and marketing director, says, “For 30 years we have been at the forefront of A/D and D/A converter technology. Our products are found all over the world, with so much of our favourite music and movie scores having been recorded, mixed or mastered using Prism Sound professional converters.”
He continues, “We wanted to bring this level of quality and transparency into the home to enable the modern music lover and audiophile to benefit from hearing their recordings in exactly the same way as the original artiste, engineer or producer. With a development of the Prism Sound USB audio platform for the Lyra professional recording interface, we are now able to do so. Callia notches the bar higher for digital audio reproduction and we are very pleased to be able to now share our acclaimed studio quality conversion with home users.”
Prism Sound launched Callia at HIGH END, Munich earlier this month. Callia has a MSRP of £1495 (plus VAT or duties and taxes as applicable).
Posted by House Editor on 05/13 at 08:28 AM
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Sonic Nirvana? Thinking Outside Of The “Technically-Oriented” Box
Whenever I’m at the local Guitar Hut, I like to listen to the people who come in and talk with the pro audio sales guy about gear. These conversations are often filled with nebulous audiophilic adjectives like “warm”, “sweet” and “punchy”.
The sales guy has little motivation to be a source of truthful or accurate information. He just wants to make a sale. Meanwhile many of his customers already have their minds made up as to what piece of gear they need, and why.
It’s fairly easy to pick out those who will make a purchase and install it in their system - and then, in time, become disillusioned enough to again pick up the quest for the next piece of gear that promises sonic nirvana.
After more than 30 years of work with professional live and recorded sound, I find it unfortunate that so many are trapped in this scenario. Collectively, we have yet to reach a uniform level of conceptual awareness about sound systems and ways of attaining excellent results because of a fixation with gear.
For many years, I was bound, seeing just individual trees. Fortunately, Bob Brooks helped me to see the rest of the forest.
Bob came up back in the heyday of 1950s broadcasting, has been extensively involved with both live and studio production, and for 10 years owned one of the most successful studios in western Canada, Little Mountain Sound.
I met Bob eight years ago, and wish that I’d met him much earlier in my professional development. A true mentor, Bob has pushed me to hear and think outside the “technically-oriented” box that traps so many of us. We easily fool ourselves into believing that because the technical issues are “technically” correct, the sonic issues are “sonically” correct.
Even when we’re absolutely sure our ears are telling us that something is amiss, we still deny and defend, even to our own demise.
I like gear, but now recognize that if I release my inner Tim Taylor, I’ll end up sitting on the couch in my underwear surrounded by boxes of Class A this, digital that, and tubes galore, giggling like Beavis & Butthead.
Sorry, it’s best not to go there.
Since Bob helped enlighten me, my personal “key” to achieving consistent, reliable and (pardon the lack of modesty) excellent results boils down to this: it’s not what you’ve got, but how you use it.
I’ve learned to be careful in judging the provenance or status of the tools at my disposal., and have discovered that my preconceived ideas have an influence on my own success or failure. That’s not the fault of gear.
So I’ve adopted the view that I can successfully use any piece of equipment as long as it has a sufficiently low noise floor, appropriate headroom and an absence of sonic “funkiness”.
Anything beyond these factors is lagniappe (lan yap), a Cajun word meaning “something extra”.
The problem with lagniappe is that it tends to make us fat, or more specifically, bloats our thinking. Lagniappe promotes the welfare mentality. It leads us to believe that we can’t just make do with the bare necessities, and lagniappe belies the simpler truth: when it comes to producing quality sound, less is usually more, less is usually better. The more we add, the more chance we have of screwing it up.
In early recording and broadcasting, consoles only had one way to control volume on each channel, and that was the gain adjustment. What? Mixing via the gain knob?? Yup. Simple and effective. Either it was right or it wasn’t, and there was only one place to make it so.
Contrast that with modern consoles often providing four or five gain stages that have a direct influence over the level of the output. Sweet. In the right hands. (And conversely scary to the wise.)
The problem is that along the way, yesterday’s techniques for excellence have been lost on so many of us. We don’t come to this field equipped with solid production technique, and then we’re presented with so many choices.
Again: the more we add, the more chance we have of screwing it up.
There’s hope, however. We just need to embrace the dark side. In other words, look at our habits and admit that what we’re doing might not be producing the results we desire. Accepting this fact is the first step to moving on to a much better direction.
The most basic key to building excellence is to learn good technique in simplicity, and then evolve it as things get more complex, and as understanding increases.
I’m betting that at least a few of you are ready to embrace some “revolutionary” thinking and methods. The fun part is that the foundation of this revolution is largely based upon proven and reliable, not new and improved.
Since his start more than 30 years ago on a Shure Vocalmaster system, James Cadwallader remains in love with live sound. Based in the western U.S., he’s held a wide range of professional audio positions, including live mixing, recording, and technician duties.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Streaming & Casting
As audio professionals, we’re usually not concerned with how the content of podcasts and webcasts is delivered. Our focus is getting quality audio to the recorder or computer and making things sound their best.
I categorize casting and streaming into two basic groups: speech gigs and musical performances. Typically, the web conferences and corporate podcasts that I work consist mainly of speech with some pre-recorded music thrown in. Music performances are a bit more complex and I’ll address how to approach those a little later.
Like everything else we do, getting it right starts with pre-planning. I begin by asking dozens of questions, starting with the number of presenters and where they’ll be located, followed by queries about things like whether there will be Q&A (question and answer) microphones in the room, will there be remote audio to interface (such as from a telephone or voice over IP), will there be computer audio payback or music, and so on.
Another key question is what type of interface my audio signal will be feeding and where the interface will be located so I’ll know what type and how much cable is needed for the feed. This is also the time to address issues like additional power requirements for the recording and computer gear, who is operating the computer equipment, who is providing internet connections, etc. Only after I have a firm grasp on the situation do I devise an audio plan for both the house sound and web feeds.
For smaller input events, it’s usually a good idea to use a second mic on each person and at the lectern/podium, in order to provide a totally separate audio feed for the webcasts. Using a separate feed has the advantage of isolating the web audio feeds from any hum or noise issues that may arise when interfacing recording and computer gear with the PA system.
It also allows locating the webcasting components away from front of house or monitor areas to a more quiet location and/or closer to the computer and internet connection. For events with a large number of inputs, the choice is one mic per input and then splitting the signal down the line for the web.
If presenters are wearing lavalier mics for the house mix, I may place second lavs on them, on double clips, for the web feed. I also usually outfit them with a lav if they’re wearing a headset or ear worn mic. For recording and web feeds, omnidirectional mics are usually the best choice because they pick up sound a little more evenly when people turn their heads.
At the lectern/podium, I go with one of three options. The first is adding a second podium mic for the web feed, the second is to “gaff” a small mic under the podium mic’s element, and the third is placing a lavs on the presenters.
If they’re seated at a table and the house system microphones are on desk stands, a solid approach is placing ear worn mics on them. Many of them tend to lean into the house mics to talk, and a lav clipped to their chests will either get bumped into the table or pick up a lot of reflections from the table surface.
But if the input count gets too large, I simply split the signal from the house mics for a web feed. It can be set up as a separate mix on the house or monitor console, or the inputs can be split out of the console into a dedicated console for the web feed.
For podcasts or on-demand webcasts that won’t be going out live, there’s also the option of multi-track recording. In fact, even if an event is live streaming, I multi-track the show and make a safety recording “just in case.”
Since my digital consoles have Dante networking, I just interface a computer loaded with a Dante Virtual Soundcard and use a DAW (my favorite is Reaper). This can be up and running in minutes, connected via a single Cat cable.
For speech-only gigs, it’s a good idea to utilize mics that have a low-cut filter that will roll off the bottom end. (Or use the “voice” setting.)
On the console, rolling off the lows at and below the 80 to 100 Hz range on each mic input helps reduce any proximity effect and low-frequency stage noise. Also consider windscreens on every mic to help tame any pops and plosive noises, and make sure isolation feet on mic stands are in place.
I also employ isolation clips to lessen the chance that the mic picks up noise transmitted from the stand. One of my “tricks” is to place rubber mouse pads under the stands of table mics to further isolate them from noise. I put the smooth side down so the stands can easily slide out of the way of the presenters if they prefer.
Keeping It Smooth
Musical acts are a bit more challenging. One of the biggest noise issues is stage amplifiers that hiss, buzz and/or hum. These noises might not be too bad live but on a recorded webcast they can be very apparent.
The buzz and hum are indicators of a grounding issue. My first move is to make sure the amplifier has a ground pin still on the plug, or that it’s not plugged into an extension cord that’s missing the ground.
Also check any ground switches on the unit. If these measures don’t solve the problem, I plug the amp into a different outlet (even if it’s offstage).
Another thing that can help is changing the location of the amp’s mic, moving it farther away from the loudspeaker (the audible source of the noise).
Musical acts can also have a wide variety of dynamic levels. Compression and limiting can help keep instrument and vocal volume levels in check for the webcast mix.
For the main outputs I deploy a leveler – while compressors and limiters work great at keeping things from getting too loud, they can’t compensate for things that are too soft. A leveler allows setting a target window for the audio, compressing loud sounds and raising the gain of soft signals to keep the overall signal in the target range.
Some consoles offer leveling or accept leveling plugins, and there are also hardware models available, including the “old” Symetrix 422 stereo AGC leveler that I use. Inconsistent volume levels can frustrate the listener, causing them to constantly turn up or down the volume and resulting in a mediocre listening experience. Most if not all broadcast stations employ leveling, and that professional sound is what we strive to achieve.
As their name implies, levelers can help keep things consistent, whether in software (Waves Vocal Rider, above) or older hardware like a Symetrix 422 stereo AGC leveler that the author uses.
Checking It Out
Unless there’s a separate audio mix system for the web feeds, it’s a good idea to place isolation transformers between the sound system and the computer(s). While there may be no noise issues at sound check, they have a bad habit of suddenly appearing before show time, so the isolation will help keep the signal clean without demanding your attention when other issues are more pressing.
The next stop in the signal chain is the front end of the computer. There are a lot of FireWire and USB audio interfaces on the market today that sound great. I have several Focusrite Scarlett interfaces that work well and allow some basic metering and monitoring capability.
Monitoring the mix is very important because you want to hear how it sounds to the average listener, who will probably be using a laptop or desktop with small loudspeakers or a portable device like a phone or tablet with earbuds or headphones. While I may mix using good headphones or quality monitor loudspeakers, I monitor my feeds with a set of cheap earbuds as well as a laptop – using the built-in loudspeakers – so I can get an idea of what things will sound like on the user’s end.
With a little extra attention to details and an understanding of what the audio sounds like over small, low-fidelity loudspeakers, it’s a pretty straightforward matter to deliver professional sounding podcast and webcast sound.
Senior contributing editor Craig Leerman is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.
Audient Selected For Santa Fe’s Kitchen Sink Recording Studio
Jono Manson and Tim Schmoyer renovate studio and add ASP8024 analog console with Dual Layer Control to vintage gear collection.
Opened at the end of last year, Kitchen Sink Recording Studio is the product of audio engineers Jono Manson and Tim Schmoyer’s pooled talent and resources. In a brand new location in downtown Santa Fe, the ‘new’ place is actually an old studio, where they were lucky enough to keep and renovate some of the equipment left behind by previous owners.
Adding an Audient ASP8024 with Dual Layer Control (DLC) into the mix has enabled them to benefit from the best of both worlds, combining all the advantages of DAW control and automation with classic analog gear.
“My old studio already had a nice complement of gear, all of which migrated to the new location,” says Manson , who had owned the original Kitchen Sink Recording Studio just north of the city, for the previous 10 years. “I did purchase some additional gear, mostly in the form of dynamics, and we also inherited some gizmos from the old studio which existed in the space before we took over. Among these items are fairly impressive complement of vintage microphones which, added to what I have in my closet already, comprises a formidable array.
“Two analog tape machines (both 24 and 2 track) came with the new place. These have required some love and attention, but they’re back up and running and humming right along. We also replaced every inch of cabling in the entire facility, and every solder point on every jack on every panel has been redone.”
Yet how did they come across the board from British audio company, Audient?
“Time after time I heard the familiar refrain that these were extremely reliable, great sounding desks, that the EQ was very musical, and that the preamps offered an incredible amount of bang for the buck. So, Tim and I flew to New York so that we could get our hands on one, in the flesh. I ran the desk through its paces and pushed it hard (maybe harder than I ever will in my own studio, but don’t tell anyone), and from that moment on that we were sold.
“The desk is extremely well designed, and very intuitive,” continues Manson. “The routing is extensive and very flexible. With the exception of a couple questions regarding the functions of the DLC, I have not had to crack the manual once since the desk has been up and running. I’ve been spending 12 to 15 hours a day in front of the ASP8024 and I can now honestly attest to the fact that, whether in tracking or mixing, all of the glowing endorsements were 100% true. So, kindly add mine to the list.”
“We contracted Pro Audio Design in Boston to conceive and execute our new patch bay. Apart from all of our outboard gear and our DAW and tape machines, every input, output, group, insert on the Audient comes up in the bay and we can easily assign tape sends (everything’s normalled when it needs to be) to either ProTools or the 2-inch machine - or both, simultaneously.
“In short, it looks, feels and sounds great.”
Together Schmoyer & Manson have built one of the highest spec’d studios in the region, so it’s no wonder that’s where Amanda Palmer chose to record vocals for her recent Bowie Tribute. Perhaps this place really does have everything - including the kitchen sink.
Posted by House Editor on 05/11 at 10:36 AM
Monday, May 09, 2016
Radial Engineering Now Shipping mPress And Exo-Pod Press Distribution System
Analog system allows distribution of the signal to as many as 112 users with phantom power and balanced connections.
Radial Engineering announces the mPress and Exo-Pod press distribution system in now shipping.
The mPress is a new press audio distribution system that offers near unlimited signal expansion without degradation or noise.
According to Radial’s senior engineer Dan Fraser: “The traditional press box has always been presented as a suitcase with a mic input and a host of mic outputs. In the past, transformers performed the task of splitting the signal and providing isolation against hum and buzz caused by ground loops. In recent years, the use of active signal buffers has replaced the transformer as a means to cut manufacturing costs. Unfortunately, this has resulted in noise creeping back into the audio system, deteriorating the audio quality. The mPress solves the problem by combining a high-octane active drive circuit with a host of transformer-isolated floor boxes called Exo-Pods. This modular approach allows the system technician to distribute Exo-Pods throughout the press gallery while assuring each member of the press receives a clean, hum-free signal. To ensure no digital trickery is at hand, the mPress is 100% analog.”
The mPress is configured in two parts with a master host - the mPress - and a series of external slaves called Exo-Pods. The mPress is housed in a standard 1RU 19-inch rack enclosure and begins with two mic inputs, both of which are equipped with a variable level control high-pass filter to eliminate excessive resonance and tame the proximity effect. For podium mics, 48V phantom power is available and activated using a front panel switch. This is recessed to prevent accidental use. Selecting between the mic channels is done using front panel switches. In order to control ballistics from overly excited orators, the mPress has been outfitted with two easy to use knob limiters for threshold and release.
To accommodate ‘walk-in’ music, the mPress is equipped with ¼-inch, RCA and 3.5mm stereo inputs along with a separate level control. This enables the mPress to be connected to a couple of powered speakers via the main stereo XLR outputs to provide background entertainment while the gallery waits for the ‘talent’ to arrive. A headphone output on the front panel is available for local monitoring and trouble shooting.
There are eight (8) specially designed balanced outputs, with two on the front panel, and six on the rear. Each of these may be configured using a recessed switch for mic level or high output drive to feed an Exo-Pod. This allows the mPress to be used as a 2x8 distro for smaller events or expanded by adding Exo-Pods on the outputs. The Exo-Pod is a passive floor box that features an XLR input, a throughput for expansion, a local level control plus ten (10) XLR mic outputs and four (4) 3.5mm mini TRS outs for those who are equipped with a mini recorder. A test tone may be activated to set local and master levels. With the use of eight Exo-Pods, one can distribute the signal to as many as 112 users. This can be further expanded using the throughputs by simply adding more Exo-Pods. Power is only needed at the main mPress box and is supplied via an external lock supply that will accept any input from 100 to 240 volts.
MAP: $1,099.99 USD for the main unit and $279.99 USD for each Exo-Pod module.
Posted by House Editor on 05/09 at 07:41 AM
Friday, May 06, 2016
PSW Top 5 Articles For April 2016
ProSoundWeb presents at least two feature articles every day of the working week, meaning that there are 40-plus long-form articles highlighted each and every month.
That’s a lot. In fact, so much so that we got to thinking that it would be handy to present a round-up of the most-read articles for those who might have missed at least some of them the first time around.
What follows is the top 5 most-read articles on PSW for the month of April 2016. Note that since the articles aren’t all posted at the same time, we apply the same timeframe (length of time) for each when measuring total readership.
Also note that immediately following the top 5, PSW editor Keith Clark offers some additional suggestions of recently published articles worth checking out. These articles also scored quite well in terms of readership but were just outside the head of the list.
Without further adieu, here are the top 5 articles on PSW in April.
1. What Is Dither?
How can intentionally adding noise to our audio signal ever be a good thing? (Includes Video) By Nigel Redmon
2. PA Design For Coverage & Intelligibility
Four design principles to consider when looking at a main sound system loudspeaker design. By Mike Sessler
3. Gig Savers
An in-depth primer covering key interconnect and test tools (and more!) that make it all work. By Craig Leerman
4. Thickening Up Tracks With Doubling
Techniques for creating a doubling effect to mimic a “stacked” sound without multiple takes. By Scotty O’Toole
5. Loudspeaker Advancement
The evolution of large-scale sound system optimization, in the first of a multi-part series. By Bob McCarthy
Something In The Air
Accounting for environmental and other changes between sound check and show time. By Dave Rat
Foolproof Festival Patch
“Why not put the mics where the people are going to end up?” A a straightforward approach… By Ike Zimbel
The Power Of The Unseen
Excelling at the invisible side is one of the biggest ways we can build a quality visible side. By Andrew Stone
Room Treatment Vs Soundproofing
Differentiating between the two types of improvements that can be made to an acoustic environment. By John Calder
MULANN Launches Recording The Masters Analog Tape Brand
New brand of professional recording, mixing, mastering and archiving media expands market in the United States, Europe and other territories.
MULANN Group announces “Recording The Masters” a new brand and identity for its AUDIO professional activities. Creating a new visual identity for the audio products with a new logo reflects MULANN’s commitment to professional audio recording and strengthens its presence on the worldwide music, archive and instrumentation markets.
“MULANN owns the original formulas of analog recording, some of which date back to 1950, created by AGFA and BASF. These magnetic formulas deliver a very high sensitivity and dynamic sound quality. They also offer the capabilities to store data for several decades, far beyond what digital and optical media offer today,“says Jean-Luc Renou, MULANN CEO.
Oriented to professional and semi-professional recording, mixing, mastering and archiving, MULANN is expanding its position in this market in the United States, Europe and other territories.
With the introduction of this new brand, MULANN products speak directly to both the professional sector and to audiophiles. The analog recording tapes created by AGFA, BASF then EMTEC, are now manufactured by MULANN group under the brand “Recording The Masters”. This new visual identity energizes the market searching for sound authenticity, sustainability and the original technical qualities of audio recording developed in the mid-twentieth century and never equaled over the years.
“The visual brand identity “Recording The Masters” is radically new,” explains Renou, “This new brand identity is dynamic, modern and it indicates that analog recording is active more than ever. Its technology values offer a future and an important role to capture, transmit and store audio tracks and sounds for the long term. The analog recording flame shines even brighter for an everlasting light.”
Posted by House Editor on 05/06 at 10:46 AM
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Leona Lewis Tours UK With Solid State Logic
Front of house engineer Dave Wooster selects the SSL L500 console for 14-date tour.
Soulful, multi-talented vocalist and performer Leona Lewis has been on a 14-date tour of the UK with a Solid State Logic L500 console and K-array Slim Array technology, chosen by front of house engineer Dave Wooster.
Lewis’ I Am show provides Wooster with around 65 inputs from the stage. “It’s a full-on set-up,” he says. “The drummer alone has two mics on the bass drum, three snares - each with at least two mics on, four toms, all the cymbals, electronic kick and snare… So he was up to about 20-odd channels on his own.”
According to Wooster, the show absolutely benefited from the L500’s signal path - from the SuperAnalogue mic inputs, through the flexible channel path, and comprehensive internal FX Rack: “What really separates the L500 from the competition is the sound.”
“The effect on Leona’s vocal was very noticeable in the system,” he continues. “I think the 96kHz operation makes a difference, but the pre-amps make a huge difference as well, and whatever it is SSL has done on the EQ is stunning…. You really hear the HF.
“With Leona I have to deal with a massive dynamic range within every song… The mix has to be able to go right down to almost nothing and then build to everything. The way the SSL input section handles that is fantastic.
“Of course, it’s natural that when she whispers I get a load of low end from the microphone that I don’t need, and when she’s screaming down it there’s too much high end and not enough lows. I use a dynamic EQ from the internal FX rack to sort that out. The standard EQ helps calm down some resonances, though there were only two cuts with low and high pass filters that I needed to make with that.
“The channel compressor is the first layer of dynamics control, just to help take out any real big peaks; then across her stem- which includes her reverb and delay returns, as well the main vocal path - I put an SSL Bus Compressor; it’s very good.”
Wooster’s approach to the console surface configuration takes full advantage of the L500’s layer & bank approach to layout, as well as the Super-Query (‘Q’) function - a forward and reverse interrogation feature with fast-assignment feature.
“I have all my input channels as a sub-layer,” says Wooster. “That’s where all the programming is. Then I use Stems on the top layer. I completely isolate them from any recall and end up with kick, snare, hat, toms, overheads, a bass channel, guitar channel, keyboard channel, lead vocal and BV stem faders that are always below my fingers… That’s my mix.
“All the automation and scene recalls are still going on underneath, so if I then hit the Q button on any Stem all of the underlying contributions pop up from below. I can make a quick adjustment in that scene, save it, then go straight back to the Stem layer and carry on mixing.”
As well as the console, the tour rig included the innovative K-array ‘Firenze’ Slim-Array PA system with acoustic steering. Wooster is convinced that the combination of the two was unbeatable: “In the 33 years I’ve been doing this,” he says, “I’ve never mixed on a system this good…”
Front of house engineer Dave Wooster at the SSL L500
Solid State Logic