AF’s Weblog

October 17, 2012

The Importance of Space in a Mix: Part I

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:26 pm

To read the full detailed article see:  The Importance of Space in a Mix: Part 1

When entering a new space, how often do we consider it’s sonic characteristics. And more frequently, when building a mix, how often do we think of space(s) as its own sonic element?

We spend a great deal of time considering individual sounds in a space. We prescribe attributes to the instruments and the players in order to organize our thoughts about the sounds and how they blend. We may often say a singer is “mid-rangy,” a snare is “ringy,” or perhaps the acoustic guitar is “warm.” We do the same for microphones, pre-amps, compressors, and what have you. It is surprising how little time is spent considering the sound of rooms, reverbs, delays, and whatever other spaces are coexisting within our mix. Considering that sound is defined by air vibrations within a space one would think the room would be held in equal importance to that which is resonating in it. But, when entering a new space, how often do we consider it’s sonic characteristics. And more frequently, when building a mix, how often do we think of space(s) as its own sonic element?

Perhaps more often than we realize. After all, why do we spend so much time rolling through reverb presets trying to find the perfect one – when we seldom know what the right one will be? And why does a plate sound good one time, but a hall sounds better next? Something instinctive is motivating these decisions. Like all sound sources, we are on some fundamental level listening for – and striving for – tone, rhythm, and coherence.

Reverb

The purpose of having customizable reverb is to find that which perfectly compliments the sound source – or the surrounding sound sources. We can pick and choose a reverb with a certain sound that highlights the tones or rhythms in our mix. And frequently, we will send multiple sound sources to the same reverb for the sake of coherence.

The complication comes in when there are multiple spaces present in the mix. After all, how can one element exist in two spaces at once? Or three? or, why is it that the choir sounds like it’s in a church while the lead vocalist sounds like she/he is in a concert hall?

Sonic Cues for the Listener

Of course, the end listener is not listening on such a discerning level. The end listener is only picking up on subtle sonic cues that either indicate the sound is coherent or disjointed. So our task is to lead the listener’s ear where we want it to go. Do we want a unified sense of space, or something surreal?

That’s our job as the artist, producer, or engineer. To orchestrate all the sounds and consider what feelings and emotions they evoke. They key word here being “orchestrate.” A random piling of sounds will certainly sound “unmixed” or perhaps more importantly, “ineffective.” Reverb and space are no exception.

Listening for Spacial Characteristics

The primary goal to understanding and sussing out any mix is listening. When listening to the drums, bass, vocals, strings, etc, perhaps we should also make a point of listening to the space in the capture. If you’re not used to listening to space then using a compressor as a listening tool with a fast attack and release and a low threshold will exaggerate the room sound in the capture. Everything has spatial characteristics. A bass DI’d has no space sound – but that is still a spatial characteristic and must be considered. After all, if everything is close miked in isolation rooms, or DI’d, the capture is going to come out very dry, for better or worse (usually worse).

While listening to spacial sound, we are inherently listening to our front to back sound field. A DI’d bass is going to sound extremely forward while our drum kit miked from thirty feet away will naturally sound way back. This is a major advantage when organizing the image of our mix – as it can be recorded strategically to do the front to back work for us.

Tonal Cues

The trickier part of listening to space is the tonal cues. This is an immensely complex task, but can effectively be dumbed down into frequency response and “texture.” This can be broken down into an even more fundamental question: Are the room sounds complimenting each other or clashing? A bright, open, Lex PCM 96 Hall reverb might sound fantastic on vocals, but if the acoustic guitar was recorded in a dark sounding, dense room, the two reverb sounds will clash (or at least sound incoherent). While every mix is different, by and large this example will yield something that sounds “unmixed.”

Mix the Ambience

A brilliant colleague of mine named Gregory Scott turned me on to a unique but supremely effective concept. He said that one of the fastest ways to improve one’s mix is to “mix the ambience.” I’ve taken this to mean mixing not just with the space sound(s) in mind, but actually take the time to get all your room mics, reverbs, and delays up front or in group-solo and mix them. Get the plate slap from the snare sounding like it belongs with the room capture on the guitar. Or – if you have a surreal space – make sure it’s orchestrated in a way where the entire sense of space is working in the mix, or focus of the space moves in an evocative way (more on this in the next article). Once all the ambience tracks are mixed start bringing in the elements that have the most space in them – drum OHs, and mid-distant strings for example – and focus specifically on their space and how it sounds with the other spaces.

Tools for Mixing the Space

As with all facets of mixing and recording, the source sounds are paramount.

Choosing the best reverb(s) for the job up front will ultimately determine the end result. So, even before we get into the mixing of the space, let’s talk about sound selection. In a musical piece, we can treat the reverb as any other sound source, with four basic components:rhythm, volume, tone and texture.

Rhythm

One of the key elements of any reverb is it’s decay. The length of the tail is often an indication of the expanse of the space. However, it also determines the time in which the reflections sustain in the mix – and that’s a rhythmic concern.

A long sustaining sound in a fast tempo piece, or rhythmically complex piece is going to mask elements of the mix and generally slur the overall rhythm. A quickly decaying tail in a slow piece on the other hand, will leave a lot of empty space with very little impact from the reverb. Find a tail length that compliments the speed of the piece.

Pre-Delay

Another rhythmic consideration is the speed of the pre-delay. Pre-delay is a key element in determining the front to back relationship of the dry sound and the space it exists in. In other words, pre-delay helps the ear recognize how close or far the dry sound is. Generally speaking, the longer the pre-delay, the closer the dry sound. A zero millisecond pre-delay means that the reflections and the dry sound are reaching the ear simultaneously – which puts the dry sound far away. This acoustic phenomenon could be an article all to itself, but we’ll leave it at that for now.

Pre-delay is also a rhythmic element – it determines a space of time from the initial dry sound before the early reflections show up. Anything within the Haas Zone (10ms or less), isn’t going to have much effect on the rhythmic sense of the sound. Once you start getting up to 20ms and greater, the slap back effect becomes distinct and there is a clear rhythmic effect. Find a pre-delay that compliments the speed or rhythm of the piece.

Lastly, some reverbs (particularly room and hall style reverbs) have a rhythmic space between the early reflections and late reflections. This is not always controllable, but listening for that “bulky” moment in the reverb sound is very important when selecting a reverb. Often times, plates are a good choice for drums partially because there are no “early” or “late” reflections – eliminating that particular rhythmic concern.

Volume

Generally, when I’m mixing, I prefer just enough reverb to add a little life to the elements in the mix. Often, I’m setting my reverbs 15 or 20dbFS lower than my dry elements. However, this isn’t to say reverbs can’t come to the foreground. It’s a very important aesthetic decision. Just remember that whether the reverbs are subtle or prominent, they still need to sound right. Tone and Texture – this is where we get into the gritty stuff. There are many factors in determining the tone and texture of a reverb.

First comes the style of the algorithm or convolution, then the three “D”s: diffusion, density, and damping….

Conclusion

This is definitely a lot of information to absorb (pun completely intended). Read, re-read, and play with different settings on your reverb units, and note the results.

Be discerning – the rhythmic, tonal, and textural choices are equivalent of choosing guitar amp settings or drum tunings. If chosen wisely, the mix will be easy, if not, you’re in for an uphill battle.

To read the full detailed article see:  The Importance of Space in a Mix: Part 1

 

 

October 10, 2012

The Mighty Kick Drum Microphone: Part 2

Filed under: Drums/Percussion, Microphones — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:28 pm

To read the full detailed article see:  The Mighty Kick Drum Microphone Part 2

Our survey of kick drum microphones through the years continues….

To read Part I please go here.

Optimized Response

In the 1990s, Shure debuted the Beta 52, the company’s first purpose-designed kick-drum mic, with its response specifically optimized for the task at hand using an internal EQ network.

Its integral mic stand adapter, oversized body (inside is a regular-sized capsule) and passive LC network are strategies that have been copied by many over the last decade. The idea was to make it easier by eliminating the need for EQ.

Shure even knocked itself off, after watching others do so, with its own PG series of inexpensive mics, and its PG52, at half the price of the Beta 52, is about what you’d expect. There have been many imitators of this ‘large body means big sound’ with varying results, but the concept of a contoured response, customized to the needs of the drum is here to stay.


Shure Beta 52 (left) and PG52

Manufacturers have gotten caught up in ‘big mic’ aesthetics, as users are easily invested with the false notion that bigger is better for a kick drum, or that a large diaphragm is better for low frequencies, which is only true in some cases for condensers – other factors really do play a part in determining how well a mics response is tailored for kick drum.

As such, there’s a proliferation of sub-$100 kick drum mics, and the old chestnut that ‘you gets what you pays for’ really applies. I’ve rarely found a cheap mic I could recommend to pro users, while a quality microphone will serve its owner for years while retaining its value.

New Kicks in Town

The following modern kick drum mics are favorites, and are designed to get a sound engineer most of the way there before ever touching the EQ. In efforts made great mics for floor toms, they never quite delivered the goods for kick drum.

The Audix D4 is just one example, but I can single it out because the company did such a great job on the D6, which immediately replaced the M 88 as a personal favorite.

The D6 is a second generation cardioid kick drum mic with a tight low end and smooth contoured response.

The beyerdynamic Opus 99 and M99 are really the same mic. hypercardioid and contoured with passive filters, but the M99’s switches allow the engineer to independently turn off the mid-cut and HF boost, making it useful for a wide range of applications beyond kick drum.

The Electro-Voice N/D 868 is a cardioid kick drum mic that sounds somewhat like an RE27, but with pre-contoured EQ built in. The Sennheiser e602 and newer e902 are both contoured cardioid dynamic kick mics, but the e902 has more high-end snap.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Really Different

Studio guys will tell you that a great technique is using a large diaphragm condenser (LDC) several feet away, often constructing a tunnel of sound, deadened to maintain isolation.

For live gigs this has obvious limitations, combined with the fact that they usually get increasingly omni-directional at low frequencies.

Some engineers have had good results using an AKG C414 fairly dose to the kick drum’s sound hole for lighter acts, but most chose to use their 414 inventory for other tasks before dedicating one to kick.

It’s worth noting that single-diaphragm LDCs like the C3000 maintain their directional pattern in the low end, making them better candidates for all kinds of full-bandwidth live applications, besides being less expensive.

The Audio-Technica AE2500 dual-element cardioid mic places a dynamic and a condenser element in the same housing. This invention borrows from the studio ploy of taping a 57 and a 451 together so they’re time-aligned, and capsules are borrowed from A-T products in both categories.

Some find it has more potential on snare and guitar cabinets, but many swear by it on kick drum. And yes, it costs about the same as two good microphones.

Yamaha SKRM Subkick.

A while back, Yamaha introduced the SKRM SubKick, a 10-mch drum shell with a 6.5-inch woofer inside. This kick drum mic’ing idea is borrowed from the old-school studio approach of using the woofer from a Yamaha NS10 near-field studio monitor (usually available because its tweeter was blown) as a microphone for the kick drum.

Different results are obtained depending on whether tile woofer is in the NS10 cabinet to dampen its response, or is in ‘free-air.’ The frequency response of the woofer naturally rolls off the highs, but this technique has always been used to compliment another, more traditional mic’ing technique, providing a fatness and thickening that complements the transient of a condenser.

It’s not for everyone, but many think it’s “da bomb.”

Earthworks Kickpad/SR25 combination is a kick drum solution from the company’s three-mic condenser drum mic kit. Rather than design a mic specifically for kick drum, the company provides an in-line XLR barrel for its SR25 cardioid condenser which pads it down and contours its frequency response.


Earthworks KickPad

The KickPad can be bought separately and can be used with other mics, especially helpful with condensers, and it can also be used with dynamics, but pre-contoured kick drum mics get far less benefit from a double dose.

Many consoles can achieve the same results by putting in a pad and a mid-range cut, as sometimes they’re just not options on the desk (i.e. PreFade = PreEQ).

Now that we’ve established two inputs as standard, the next frontier is obvious. Someone recently joked that it’s about time we added a third input, but I agree wholeheartedly.

We’re best able to evaluate various combinations and new microphone choices by simply allowing for a third experimental kick drum mic in the input list. You may find that you can replace the two mics you’ve been using with a single mic that works better.

Alternatively, you may prefer some two-mic combination to what you’ve used all along.

How else are you going to find out unless you put some play time and space into the daily grind? Most engineers plan an hour between line check and sound check.

Why not invest a little of that time every day to learn more about microphones that make it go bang!

To read the full detailed article see:  The Mighty Kick Drum Microphone Part 2

October 4, 2012

The Mighty Kick Drum Microphone: Part 1

To read the full article see:  The Mighty Kick Drum Microphone Part 1

Though there are other conventions, it is generally agreed that the kick drum goes into the first channel of the console, and for time immemorial, inordinate efforts have gone into tediously adjusting it.

Sound check never really starts until after this first input has been tweaked to satisfaction.

The kick drum is the cornerstone of rock. It puts the pop in pop music and is the one input that holds it all together. It’s the heartbeat of rock and roll.

With most input channels, the goal is to accurately recreate the original sound, but with kick drum an ideal is constructed from the available material.

Perhaps it’s in channel one because it defines ‘one.’

First Things First

If you want good sounding drums, the drums must first sound good. Though it sounds like a platitude, sound checks frequently grind to a halt while someone looks for a drum key. Crap drums always provide crap sound (garbage in, garbage out), but the same kit, properly tuned, sounds completely different.

You don’t have to be a drummer to know how to tune drums, though it helps. However, plenty of drum techs are living proof that anyone can learn.

When foldback speakers began battling it out with Marshall stacks and Sunn Coliseums, taking the front head off the kick drum became a necessity to provide a degree of isolation and allow the mic to capture the attack of the beater hitting the head.

The use of a pillow to dampen the head began, no doubt by a sleepy drum tech, and as years went by, the art of the hole in the front head evolved.

There are three ways of setting up a kick drum: with heads on both sides, batter head only, or with a hole in the front head. The latter compromise has become the rule, as it provides access for mic placement, while retaining some benefits of the resonant head, and over time the hole has gotten smaller and moved away from the center.

Countless back-lounge discussions have been logged on this topic. It’s generally agreed that anything larger than 6 inches (a roll of duct tape) releases too much air and performs like no head at all (other than to keep the pillow inside), and a hole in the center also releases too much pressure.

Cutting a hole with a utility knife can have disastrous results and is a job for the skilled or experienced. Heating a coffee can on a stove and pressing it into the head can melt a hole that’s even and smooth.

And in case you were wondering, the 4-o’clock position for an offset hole became traditional because a boom arm reaching across the head causes the weight of the mic to tighten the screw on the mic clip and keep the mic in position.

Batter head tension should be no more than a half-tum past taking the wrinkles out. The front head’s tension affects the batter head, and should be slightly looser for the fullest sound.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Classics

By the 1980s other mics contended for the first channel.

The beyerdynamic M 88, originally introduced as a premium hypercardioid dynamic for a wide variety of applications, was eventually discovered to be an outstanding kick drum mic.

However, repeated exposure deteriorates the compliance of the membrane and imparts a “wooly” sound that some actually prefer for the drum, but is no longer acceptable when combined with proximity effect on vocals.

Informed users therefore clearly mark their M 88s as to their designation for drums or vocals.

Top to bottom, EV RE20, RE27N/D
and the newer RE320, which includes
a switchable curve designed for kick drums.

The Electro-Voice RE20, heralded for bringing out the fullness of radio announcers, was also discovered to bring depth to the kick drum.

This mic was followed up a few years ago with the RE27 N/D which employs a neodymium-alloy magnet, hotter output, extended HF, a presence peak at 4 kHz, and provides two low-cut filters instead of one, plus a high-cut.

The AKG D 112 became the first “application specific” kick-drum mic, partly in response to complaints about expensive D 12E studio mics breaking down under high SPL in the kick drum. Today it remains one the most popular, and the first to marry aesthetics to functional contoured frequency response. It looks cool and sounds great.

The Audio Technica ATM25 followed as a great hypercardioid utility mic, and it has been compared to a highly directional rugged D 12E.

 

 

To read the full article see:  The Mighty Kick Drum Microphone Part 1

October 1, 2012

Blue Microphones Reactor Review

Filed under: Microphones — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:09 am

The launch of the Spark, which we had the opportunity to review here, generated a lot of excitement. But Blue Microphones shows no intention of stopping there and has introduced a new microphone with a quite… different look?! Reactor enriches the product range of the US brand while staying faithful to the philosophy of offering affordable, but original products. Let’s dig into the details.

How Does it Sound?

Blue Microphones Reactor

 

Blue Microphones ReactorI find the Reactor does a quite good job in all four examples. There’s no doubt it’s a modern mic with high output level and emphasized highs. Regarding the preamp, we kept the same gain setting for both mics in order to show their different output level. In the mono drum-ambiance sample, the Reactor emphasizes the overall brightness of the drum kit. The cymbals clearly cut through, as does the attack of the toms, giving quite a lot of presence and attack to the overall sound. The sound is bright rather than sharp, although that depends on the cymbals… It would have been interesting to try out a couple of Reactor as overheads. However, I fear that the weight of the microphone makes it difficult to put it on a stand and place it in the right position…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Blue Microphones ups the ante when it comes to originality with this characterful microphone. The Reactor is bright both in terms of look and sound, and it will serve a wide range of recording applications. The microphone gives good results with many sound sources. However, do note that you have to use it with a sturdy stand if you want to place it in strange positions, in spite of its 90° swiveling head. Nevertheless, with this small rocket, you get Blue’s very good engineering and manufacturing quality for just $500.

Thanks to Red Led for his legendary guitar playing and to Marc Upson (Upson Studio) for letting us use his facilities… and for his patience. Red Led appears courtesy of LeftWing Beard&Glasses Publishing

Advantages: 
  • Look?! (it’s all a matter of taste)
  • Sound
  • Manufacturing quality

Drawbacks:

  • Weight?!
  • No pad… With such a high output level, a pad would be really helpful!

September 27, 2012

Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios

Filed under: Home Studio — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:01 am

To read the rest of the interviews please see:  Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios

Whether you’re a self-recording hobbyist or a professional mixing engineer, studio work is about making decisions. If the room you’re making decisions in isn’t a reliable listening environment, then the decisions you’re making won’t be reliable either.

Luckily there is a community of experienced acousticians, design consultants, and studio contractors dedicated to providing specialized services to musicians and engineers, in studios large and small. This article compiles some thoughts from two such studio acoustics professionals:

Tom Day began working on studio design projects in the late 1980s with a friend who had recently opened a consulting firm in Los Angeles. In a couple of years, they built a series of musicians’ studios within, and outside of, the constraints of zoning and code in L.A.’s complex, competitive, and restrictive collection of communities.

In 2001 Tom restarted his business, Wirebender Audio Systems, to provide a variety of services to studios and other customers. He has provided consulting for project studio designs, college studio facilities, industrial and business-space noise control, and a couple of industrial products that required noise output reduction analysis.

Bryan Knisley has been providing custom studio design and contractor services for 12 years. His company, North Orbit, serves a wide range of home, project, and commercial studio clients. Most of the people Bryan works for are musicians or studio owners working in the commercial music industry.

In addition to studio projects, Bryan works on a wide range of commercial and residential sound control projects. He also helps test various products and designs at Orfield Labs, an acoustic laboratory in Minneapolis.

What is the most common acoustic problem you find in the typical home studio or under-designed commercial studio?

Tom: Too much emphasis on reverberation treatment before creating reasonable noise isolation. If the room isn’t quiet, reverberation and reflection problems may not be the biggest problem in the room design. Absorption provides little-to-no value if you are bothering your neighbors, or if outside noises are finding their way into your recordings.

Bryan: I would have to say that most often I find speaker placements and/or mix positions that need to be adjusted before room treatments even start going in. Nearfield monitors are often way too far apart, too close to a front wall, or the engineer is seated too far forward or back for the particular room.

Subwoofers are often right up against a wall, or stuck in a corner. That will excite the existing room modes even more and enhance low frequency problems. Most home or project studios are small, and the fundamental axial mode frequencies are easily reproduced by a subwoofer (or any monitor with a low enough frequency range). For example, a 12-foot wide room has a fundamental axial mode of about 46.5Hz.

What is the most common room treatment question you hear from home studio clients?

Bryan: “How can I treat my low frequency problems so my mixes will translate better?”

Tom: “How do I keep from irritating my neighbors when I’m recording drums?” Next would be, “How do I do all of that [the answers to the first question] cheaply?”

In your experience, are there any particular elements of a typical small studio treatment project that lend themselves to a DIY approach?

Tom: Absolutely. With reasonable knowledge, decent construction skills, patience, a critical eye to detail, and time, I think building a decent small studio space [yourself] is incredibly practical.

Bryan: Yes! Absorption panels are fairly easy to make, and a great place to start. Diffusers, bass traps, resonators, etc. are all very fun to make, and you’ll learn a ton along the way.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably make a ton of mistakes as well. Asking around and finding someone experienced who’s ‘been there and done that’ to come to your space for an hour is probably money and time better spent! I’m very much a DIY guy, but I’m lucky to have worked with very knowledgeable folks over the years and continue to learn new things every day.

A lot of beginning engineers, and even some working engineers and studio owners, dismiss the importance of detailed room treatment, or delay it because of expense. How would your simplest argument against those attitudes go?

Bryan: Unless you’re mixing with headphones, your room is coloring what you hear. You can spend a truckload of money and chase an “ideal” room forever, but with good ears and some effective room treatments you can make a huge improvement in your mixing and/or listening environment. When it sounds good, it’s fun to go to work.

Tom: There is, of course, a return-on-investment to be considered with any expense. However, a well done acoustic treatment can be reasonably priced and can make the difference between a workable space and a constant fight to figure out what is coming out of the monitors.

When room resonances, isolation problems (and the resulting signal-to-noise/dynamic range capabilities of the studio), and reverberant character of the room are appropriate for the work being done, the client can get a lot more work done in less time with more confidence. If the room in question is used for music performance, competent acoustic treatment will make the difference between a recording that sounds professionally done, and one done in a closet.

Sometimes a visit from an acoustic designer can provide useful DIY tips so the client can do the work on a tight budget and get a reasonably professional result.

To read the rest of the interviews please see:  Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios

September 24, 2012

Monster Beats Pro Review

To read the full detailed review see:  Monster Beats Pro Review

Thanks to its partnership with Dr Dre, Monster’s Beats Pro have become a grand success. But are we really talking about a new reference product here or just a fad? That’s the question…

There’s nothing strange in an audio and hi-fi cable manufacturer launching a range of headphones, that’s what you usually call diversification. But what’s really surprising is that the manufacturer’s most expensive headphones are endorsed by famous hip-hop producer Dr Dre and that they are a smash hit in spite of their $400 price tag! Within a few months, the Beats Pro and their less expensive variations have become a popular reference: you can see them on many heads on the street, despite their price and their “pro” flair. We must admit that the Beats have that something extra: they are lookers! Compared to the old-school designs from the 80’s that still influence some AKG, Sennheiser and BeyerDynamic headphones, Monster tried to create a pair of headphones with a different look (available in black or white with a small, red “b” on each ear cup) and different high-quality materials, like brushed aluminum for the headband and real leather for the earcup cushions.

The beauty and the beast inside

Monster Beats Pro

It seems Monster has learned a lot from Apple’s marketing strategies: the Beats Pro come in a nice-looking, heavy box with all the necessary accessories. Besides small guides, the package includes a soft cover and even a small antibacterial cloth for cleaning the headphones. All details of the packaging and the accessories have been painstakingly considered and the same applies to the headphones themselves. Among the good ideas introduced with the headphones is the locking system of the red cable, which enables you to plug it either to the right or the left earcup. The other end of the cable features an angled minijack and even a small rubber holder for the 1/4″ jack adapter. A very good idea, considering how easy it is to forget where you put it…

Watch out for counterfeits

Being a fashion phenomenon, the Beats are the most counterfeited headphones in history, according to Monster. This might explain why you see them everywhere in spite of their hefty price. The manufacturer is very clear in this respect: the only way to get authentic Beats headphones is to buy them from an official dealer. They also advise against products sold on eBay (or the like) because up to 99% are counterfeits.

The headphones are quite heavy, which will please some and displease the rest, but they feel pretty comfortable on my head and give an impression of roughness with their thick brushed aluminum parts. Both earcups can be folded, which is convenient for transportation and for DJ-style listening. The adjustable headband and earcups allow the headphones to fit every head.

In short, they look great, are well manufactured, well thought-out, and sold in a beautiful package (following Apple’s footsteps). The only negative thing is that Monster doesn’t include spare earcup cushions, probably because the cushions of the Beats Pro are washable… Time will tell if this strategy is right!

Now let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Conclusion

Monster Beats Pro

The Beats look great and even if the bling-bling of its white leather won’t be to everyone’s taste (a black version is also available), the high quality materials, the listening comfort, the provided accessories, and the packaging justify the $400 price tag. But when it comes to the sound, the conclusion isn’t as easy. The overemphasized lows and tiny highs make the Beats quite pleasant to the ears, but they also make them an aberration for your wallet, at least for studio applications. In fact, they can hardly compete with similar products from AKG, Beyerdynamic or Ultrasone. Monster applied a successful marketing strategy consisting in making headphones fashionable, while implying that the sound is good because the price is high thanks to a cleaver endorsement strategy…

In this regard, Dr. Dre is certainly one of the best hip-hop producers ever. I have a huge respect for the man and his work, but I would like to know for what kind of professional applications is he using these “professional” headphones that neglect so many nuances and details of the audio signal due to an overemphasized low-end. In the end it all comes down to marketing, which makes me wonder if Bon Jovi ever drove the Volkswagen Golf that holds his name…

Advantages: 
  • Original look compared to competitors
  • Well thought-out headphones, good manufacturing quality
  • Accessories

Drawbacks:

  • Unbelievable value for money
  • Super-ultra-overemphasized lows
  • Crippled highs

To read the full detailed review see:  Monster Beats Pro Review

September 20, 2012

Understanding the Basics of Sound Synthesis

Filed under: Synthesizers — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:55 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Basics of Sound Synthesis

Many of those who use synthesizers in the modern technological world are not well versed in the basics of different kinds of synthesis. With the ease of computer-based synthesis, any synthesis program can be opened and fiddled around with by ear until something “cool” comes out.

To break the mold in the use of synthesizers in the modern music world, you have to be educated or lucky. This is exactly why it is more important now than ever before to understand the fundamentals of different synthesis methods.

Subtractive Synthesis
This is the most common method that gave birth to the concept of sound-synthesis.

Subtractive Synthesis is a very simple signal chain of an oscillator (sound source) running through a filter (EQ curve) which is then sent to an amplifier for gain staging and ADSR control. This method is very easy to achieve in both analog and digital realms and can be used to create numerous (possibly infinite) instruments, effects, and sounds.

The main principle behind Subtractive Synthesis is that any harmonic character can be constructed by an oscillator, or the combination of multiple oscillators. Then, by running these oscillators through various filters, and controlling the envelope response, the harmonics present within the oscillators tones can be whittled into harmonic structures that mirror those of actual instruments.

The analog subtractive synthesizer was initially designed for this purpose–as an alternative to hiring musicians to play on recordings, however, it quickly morphed into its own instrument, creating various sounds never before made by any acoustic instrument.

Additive Synthesis (and Resynthesis)
Additive Synthesis is trying to achieve the same result as Subtractive Synthesis, but approaches the method from a constructive philosophy, rather than carving. Rather than presenting a wall of harmonics and carving out the harmonic structure desired (Subtractive Synthesis), in additive synthesis multiple sine waves of varying levels and frequencies are combined together to build the harmonic structure desired. Simply put, instead of starting with everything you need and throwing away what you don’t need, you start with nothing and build harmonic structures from scratch.

The very connected process of Resynthesis is highly connected to Additive Synthesis. In essence, Resynthesis involves analyzing the harmonic structure of a sampled sound, and trying to recreate that structure. Additive Synthesis is essentially Resynthesis, excluding the fact that Resynthesis is the recreation of a specific existing sound, not a general instrument tone. Given this link, additive synthesis is quite often used in Resynthesis processes.

Component (Physical) Modeling Synthesis
Physical Modeling Synthesis is mathematical, and uses set algorithms to define the harmonic and acoustic characteristics of the sound being generated. This method is mostly used for creating real-sounding instruments, as it is programmed to make characteristic distinctions between various aspects of the instrument being created. For instance, the materials that make up the instrument, the size, the stiffness of a membrane, the volume of a reverberant object (in order to reproduce its resonant frequency), and many other fine details are factored into the algorithm that generates each sound’s different qualities using various forms of synthesis (dependent upon manufacturer).

Wavetable Synthesis
Wavetable Synthesis employs the use of a table with various switchable frequencies played in certain orders (wavetables). As a key is pressed, the sound moves in order through the wavetable, not spontaneously changing the waveform, but smoothly changing its shape into the various waves in the table.

This method produces sounds that can evolve really quickly and smoothly. The method was intended to create digital sounding noises, so it is not used for instrument replication very often, but is an effective way to create pads or harsh-sounding tones like bells or digital sounds.

Vector Synthesis
Vector Synthesis is almost exactly the same as Wavetable Synthesis, only it employs a two-dimensional grid, through which wavetables can be made even smoother and works with sequences as well as wavetables.

LA (Linear Arithmetic) Synthesis
LA Synthesis was created by Roland as an attempt to utilize Wavetable Synthesis to create real-sounding instrument patches. They achieved this by cutting the waves on the wavetables in half and combining the complicated attack (first half) wave patterns with simple release (second half) wave patterns, thus emulating more of an acoustic environment.

Phase Distortion Synthesis
Phase distortion synthesizers are subtractive synthesizers with one difference – they employ the waveform flexibility of wavetable synthesis in the oscillator. So, instead of having set waves to choose from at the oscillator, you are given full control over the shape of the waveform between all set shapes – in other words, variable waveform control.

Let’s take a look at some other methods…

Conclusion

In the modern computer-era, all of these forms of synthesis are present in countless programs. Many of these synthesis methods are combined or layered within single programs to accommodate the creation of unique synthesizers. In understanding these methods, experimenting, and combining them, you become the creative force behind sound-synthesis!

To read the full detailed article see:  Basics of Sound Synthesis

September 17, 2012

Motu Track16 Review

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  MOTU Track16 Review

Track16 is the latest addition to Motu’s range of audio interfaces. The numerous features announced by the manufacturer are very appealing. Let’s see how they translate in the real world!

How Does it Sound?

MOTU Track16MOTU Track16

 

Test system

MacBook Pro QuadCore i7 2.7 GHz
OS 10.6.8
Motu Track 16
Motu CueMix FX 1.6 52865
Logic Pro 9.1.7

 

MOTU Track16

MOTU Track16

Let’s make a first attempt with a Cort Jumbo acoustic guitar (thanks to Nico for his guitars and his presence in front of the mic!) captured by a TLM-103, a mic with an excellent signal-to-noise ratio. Note that you can’t achieve max gain via the control on the interface itself and once you close the window (for example to get free space on your screen), there is nothing on the interface to recall CueMix…

Now let’s have a listen…

Conclusion

MOTU Track16Let’s start with the negatives, for example the bulky and rigid D-Sub cable that takes a lot of space on a table or mixer. That’s certainly a pity for a product sold as a desktop interface. Moreover, sometimes there are audio clicks and I was not able to find the reason why (except when you power on/off). The main drawback is the buzz followed by clicks when you increase the trim setting of the Hi-Z inputs. The quality of the mic preamps equals the quality of similar interfaces at the same price-point. You’ll be able to work without constraints, even if the preamps don’t quite reach the performance of the ones on comparable RME or TC interfaces. However, an ideal solution would be to add an external preamp via the ADAT interface.

Putting that aside, this audio interface offers many advantages. First of all, the number of ins/outs and the way they can be managed from the interface itself. The construction seems pretty sturdy, which is reassuring, especially considering that in this price range you can find several plastic boxes with knobs that fall off… The software is quite impressive, even if it lacks some features, like a real routing matrix for example. Nonetheless, the eight buses, high-quality effects, measurement tools, SMPTE LTC sync, the possibility to save setup presets, etc. make the combination of CueMix FX and Track16 a very useful tool.

Advantages: 
  • Perfect construction
  • Impeccable “toggle display” function
  • Quality converters
  • Immediate mute of the current channel by pushing the knob
  • Excellent display features
  • 32-bit, floating-point internal processing
  • Powerful and effective CueMix FX software
  • Zero-latency monitoring
  • Working with a 32-sample buffer size is not a problem
  • Perfect design
  • Quality of the effects
  • Eight independent mixing buses
  • SMPTE (LTC) sync via single 1/4″ jack
  • Audiodesk 3 included
  • 24 bits/192 kHz
  • ADAT S/Mux

Drawbacks:

  • Audio clicks from time to time and when powering on/off
  • Strange behavior (buzz and clicks) of the Hi-Z Trim controls without a signal present
  • Floor-noise of the preamps is a bit high
  • No real routing matrix
  • ADAT switching system not always reliable
  • D-Sub cable: too rigid and without color marks

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  MOTU Track16 Review

September 14, 2012

Basic Concepts in Electronic Music Production

To read the full detailed article see:  Basic Concepts in EDM

If you’re reading this article you might already know that EDM stands for Electronic Dance Music. The styles range over a wide gammet of musics, from House to Dubstep, Drum-n-Bass, and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). While the specifics of each style are extremely diverse (even within different styles there are dozens of sub-styles) – certain attributes remain consistent.

If you are just getting into EDM, or just want a fresh perspective on it, this article should offer some great food-for-thought.

Rhythm

The purpose of EDM is to make people dance. Period. The rhythmic elements and the movement of the record are sacrosanct. Once you find the pulse of the record, you make that as clear as possible. That means pushing the rhythm elements way up, exaggerating any kind of pumping movement and articulating the attacks of anything that is outlining that rhythm.

In addition, it’s best when people not only hear what they want to dance to, but feel it as well. One of the biggest challenges with EDM is packing that heavy bass into the mix. The first key is to remember that physical bass is a much wider range than just the sub. In fact, club systems tend to be very unreliable when it comes to the sub range. Pay special attention to what’s happening between 80 Hz and below 300 Hz. There’s a still a lot of physical bass there, and a little love in that zone can go a long way.

In fact, most instruments have “physical” ranges. For a snare, you might be looking at 300 Hz – 500Hz. For a hi-hat you might be looking at 1 kHz. To say exactly where the physicality of a certain sound exists is almost pointless – it varies widely. But when you feel it, you know.

Loudness

The difficulty in physical sound, and I know a lot of engineers are going to shoot me for saying this, but the difficulty is that club music needs to be loud. Only so much energy can fit into a limited space, so picking and choosing how to maximize your bang-for-the-buck in terms of headroom is one of the biggest challenges in EDM.

Sometimes it’s a lot more productive to trigger a sine wave or use a bass enhancer on a kick drum, rather than simply boosting the low end – as you can get a little more “perceived” bass without running the headroom. And equally over extending compression or distortion to gain perceived size is also worth experimenting with. Ideally all club systems would have tons of clean amps with DJs who know how to not overload the speakers, who could then turn the club amps up and keep there mixers down. But that’s not the world we live in. So until then, club music does fall under the jurisdiction of the loudness police.

Let’s take a look now at some other concepts…

….

Conclusion

This article is very stream of consciousness. I hope people comment and ask questions below as there is probably a million more things that could be said on this subject. But in the mean time, this should provide a few basic concepts that will step up your game when producing EDM.

To read the full detailed article see:  Basic Concepts in EDM

August 30, 2012

Tips for Controlling Vocal Sibilance

Filed under: Singing — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:31 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Controlling Vocal Sibilance

Vocal sibilance is an unpleasant tonal harshness that can happen during consonant syllables (like S, T, and Z), caused by disproportionate audio dynamics in upper midrange frequencies.

Sibilance is often centered between 5kHz to 8kHz, but can occur well above that frequency range.

This problem is usually caused by the actual vocal formant, but can also be exaggerated by microphone placement and technique. This article will discuss some ways to control vocal sibilance, and keep the problem from becoming a musical distraction.

Sibilance at the Source (best read with sibilant whistle)

In phonetic terms, sibilance comes from a type of vocal formant called a fricative consonant. During these sorts of utterances, the airway (usually the mouth) is drastically constricted by two anatomical features, like the teeth, tongue, or palette.

This pressurization causes some amount of noise that forms the consonant sounds we would recognize from a phase like, “Sally sits sideways on the tennis trolley.” Sibilance is a very necessary feature of human speech, but when there’s (subjectively) too much noise created during these consonants, we get a very distracting harshness.

It isn’t really practical or productive to address micro-muscular vocal technique during a session, so your best bet to mitigate sibilance at the source is microphone selection and placement. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Every vocalist is remarkably different, so don’t pre-suppose that anything you’ve tried before will or will not work again.
  • Be sure to leave some space between your vocalist and the microphone. Twelve to eighteen inches would be a nice starting point.
  • A pop filter won’t do anything to help with sibilance.
  • Once you find a microphone and distance combination that helps, try angling the microphone downward 10 to 15 degrees to place the 0-degree axis toward the throat instead of the sibilant source.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Other Precautions

When you’re recording a vocal performance that may have a sibilance problem, resist the urge to compress the signal in the channel path. Over-compression can exaggerate sibilance. Instead, try using a fader to level the vocal performance, or just record with an adequate amount of headroom.

The same applies to the mixing process. Once you’ve done your best to control vocal sibilance, try using a fader and automation to maintain a consistent vocal volume in the mix. If you simply must instantiate a compressor on every vocal track, keep the attack time slow (> 30ms), and the ratio low.

Finally, don’t listen too loudly when you mix. That’s good general advice, but quality control issues like sibilance highlight its importance. Try a control room volume of 78-83dB(C) SPL. You might be surprised how much detail you’re suddenly able to hear.

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Controlling Vocal Sibilance

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