AF’s Weblog

July 28, 2011

Mysteries of Dynamics Processing Revealed

Filed under: Compressors, Processors, Recording reviews — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:34 pm

A dynamic processor is something that outputs a signal, where the level of the outgoing signal is based on the level of the incoming signal. In other words, a loud signal coming in will come out differently than a quiet signal coming in.

Basic types of Dynamic Processors

Compressors: The most common – the louder the signal is coming in, the less level it provides going out. In a compressor, a target level is set – called the “threshold” – and any signal coming in that exceeds that level will be reduced. The higher the level is above that threshold, the more reduction will occur. More on this later.

 

Limiters: Limiters are like super compressors. The idea is to ensure that the level does not exceed the threshold. Because this amount of compression is extreme, a limiter relies on certain functions and design that regular compressors do not have.

Expanders: The quieter the signal is coming in, the less level it provides going out. In other words – it makes quiet signals even quieter. Much like a compressor, the threshold is set at a certain level. Any signal that does NOT exceed that threshold is reduced, and the quieter the signal, the more reduction is done.

 

Gates: Gates are like super expanders. Anything that does not exceed the threshold is reduced to inaudible. Again, because gates are extreme, they often require a slightly different design than a regular expander.

 

Now – I’ll focus primarily on Compression, because that’s going to be the most commonly used dynamic processor.

Compression

Every signal you hear is compressed??? Yes, every signal you hear is compressed.

Bare with me. Imagine you have a rapper in front of a microphone. The rapper raps, you record. You play it back. You haven’t used any processing – you’re just playing back the raw vocals.  You are listening to a signal that has gone through at bare minimum 3 stages of compression – and more likely than not – closer to 6.

  • The microphone capsule gains tension as the rappers voice pushes it – in other words – it pushes back. The more the rapper’s voice pushes in – the harder the capsule diaphragm pushes back. In other words, the louder the signal is hitting the capsule, the more reduction the capsule does to the signal. That’s compression! (It’s mild compression, but it’s still compression).
  • Along the way through the microphone, you may hit a tube. Tubes have a non-linear response to voltage – the response is quite curved, and also changes the frequency balance of the signal. This is called saturation – which will tend to “round out” a signal, by reducing the loudest peaks. Compression! And before leaving the microphone, the signal may hit a transformer as well, which will saturate in a similar way… more compression.
  • The preamp is going to have multiple stages of saturation – and often times, the more gain you give something – the deeper that saturation curve goes. In other words, the more you drive the signal at the preamp, the more compression the signal experiences.
  • Then the sound has to actually come out of the speaker cones. Well, those speaker cones are going to build up tension when pushed further. See where this is going? This is called “cone compression”.

Ok – so this is a bit of a simplification – but there’s a point here. The point is that “compression” is always part of the signal. Some mics have less of it, some have more – same with speakers, tubes, transformers, etc. And they all do it in different ways. With tubes, people will talk about their saturation curves and %THD (total harmonic distortion – or frequency alterations). With mics, people will refer to how it “grabs” a sound – or more specifically – the sound’s shape.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Maximum Punch

There is a thin line between a transient sound, and a sustained sound. A sound that holds for any noticeable amount of time is sustaining. A sound that moves by too quickly to register as it’s own moment is transient. But transients can vary in length. A transient can be half a millisecond or it could also be ten milliseconds; they won’t sound the same. A big factor in punch is how long that transient exists. A quick transient sounds “spikey” – but a long transient sounds “punchy.” You want to find the point that makes the transient exist as long as possible before “flattening out” or becoming a sustained sound. Only your ear can tell you where that point is.

 

Good samples are already shaped to have that kind of impact – and any additional compression may actually soften that. Of course, punch has a lot to do with frequency as well – but that’s for another article.

 

Now what about the release? The release is super elusive. It determines how long it takes for the compressor to let go. If the release is too short for the signal you are going to get a disjointed sounding shape which usually results in distortion. If it’s too long, your signal never really returns to its natural shape, and you generally lose tone (or you just get permanent drive on the compressor’s output, giving the whole signal a new bit of tone). So the idea is to find a point that emphasizes the sustain (which is where most of the signals tone lives) properly.

 

Lastly, when the attack and release are set in a way that seem to argue – the compression can become very audible. You either hear the decent or the ascent of the signal level. This is called pumping. It’s generally annoying, but can sometimes be used an effect. If audibly desired, consider the rhythm of the release time, and ask yourself if it’s groove is complimenting the song.

———————————-

So, rather than thinking of a compressor as something that effects the “level” of a signal. Think of a compressor as something that effects shape. Why? Because level can be controlled with the volume fader more accurately and transparently. A fader doesn’t really control shape, unless you are being extremely meticulous. Conversely, compression will always effect the shape of the sound it is working on.

Once you start hearing shape, you will understand compression.

To read the full detailed article see:  Mysteries of Dynamics Processing Revealed

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July 22, 2011

Exclusive Interview with Dave Pensado

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:14 am

Dave pensado is a man who requires minimal introduction. He’s a world class mix engineer who’s worked on countless hit records. He’s also a teacher & mentor to an entire generation of successful mix engineers (including Jaycen Joshua, Ethan Willoughby, Ariel Chobaz & more).

Dave was kind enough to take time out of busy schedule to join us and answer some questions. Enjoy.

—–

 

I went to bed at 3am last night. When did you go to bed? What does your average week look like?


I’m still awake, I didn’t go to bed. I work about 105 hours a week, every day is 14 hours to around the clock. When I get on a roll I don’t like to stop. It’s not unusual after two weeks to slow down for a day or two though.

 

Let’s do the quick bio thing. Did you grow up in a musical family? Start playing early? See yourself as a mixer?


I was involved with music very early on. My mom was a gifted musician, and I learned a lot from her. I don’t know if I was particularly predisposed to mixing – really, I don’t even look at myself as a mixer, I look at myself as a guy who makes records. I just don’t participate in the entire process. I usually come in at the later part. But I don’t separate the different categories of engineering – it’s all just the process of making the record. For me, I enjoy every part of the process, but I tend to find myself at the mixing stage. For a while I thought I’d be playing on the records. Going from playing to engineering is not that big of a step though. A number of engineers started this way. We were broke musicians, we couldn’t hire an engineer.

 

Cool. Let’s talk “Pensado’s Place.” You’re making accomplished individuals very accessible. You’re exposing tons of great information. Why is it that you seem to have no qualms about revealing so many of your techniques?


It’s good to reiterate the point: I’m not selling my engineering, I’m selling my taste.

Even though Jaycen learned some engineering from me, he came to me with incredible taste. Dylan also has taste. I pick them because of their taste. They absorbed their engineering skills over time. The unique thing is that none of my assistants sound like me. We work together so much, and I hear little things in their mixes – but they’re their own people, and should be. If we were painters, and we decided to study art at a college, one of the problems is that artists sometimes come out third rate copy of their teachers. Some teachers grade from the perspective of what they feel is good. But it’s really about aesthetic.

This is a good time to let the readers know, if you have two hours available, the best use of your time is tolisten to as many records as possible instead of just learning techniques. That time comes after immersing yourself in records you enjoy. Create a set of references. There’s an old myth that says whenever you buy an acoustic guitar, set it in front of your speakers and play the best music you know and let the guitar absorb it, and the wood will retain that sound. Mixers need that same sort of thing. Get your own taste and then study.

 

It really can’t be said enough. So, where do you see the show going? It seems to be gaining popularity – it’s a fantastic show. What’s the goal?


I don’t want every Pensado’s Place episode perfect for every human – I want each one for certain things. I want each episode to have a timeless appeal – I don’t want them to be irrelevant in a year. It’s not just about mixing, but everything around the profession. One of the concepts behind the show is the question: once you make a mix, what the heck do you do with it?

 

I’m going to have A&Rs on the show, people on the business side. Even an art professor from UCLA because the brain has the same components; creativity is creativity, and I want different perspectives. I might have a show on successful mix engineer’s hobbies, and how those hobbies can make you a better engineer. I hope the entertainment makes it accessible to everyone, but not every episode is aimed at everyone.

 

I cook. Little known fact. What’s your hobby?


Photography. I use a lot of visual metaphors for mixing.

 

What is the future of “Pensado’s Place.” Do you have a definite plan, an indefinite plan?


I see it having a definite future. I may hand it off to someone else, but as long as people care, it’ll still be on. It’s all about hanging with my friends. I’ve always envisioned the show having an importance – it might morph, it might change just like our industry changes and our profession of mixing has changed.

 

Mixing in 2011 is 60% different than mixing in the 90s. I’ll have people on the show to help us feel into the future – it’s how to make a living – it’s how to learn – it’s a broad, almost impossible task, but it’s fun. What people don’t know is that I don’t allow the show to be edited. It’s live because that’s who we [my guest’s and I] are. Only time there would be an edit is if a guest said something that he later thought was uncomfortable.

 

Pensado’s Place is really much more than Dave Pensado. You have a great team. Herb is fantastic.


I’ve known Herb 20 years, just being in his presence is fun for me. I think if you look at the guests and the interaction with Herb and I – they all start out a little nervous and then settle in. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished starting out with nothing. Now the show takes 20 people. If you add up all the views on YouTube, and all the episodes everywhere they’re viewed, we’re probably going to hit – well, a lot of views.  I couldn’t put it together without Will and Herb, and Ryan, Ben and Ian. I get the glory but they do the real leg work. My wife filters through the questions.

 

I’m sure you get a lot of emails and comments.


I get about 300 emails – I don’t have time to respond every time someone contacts me. So, to everyone reading this, know that even if I don’t respond, I read every single email.

 

You were once quoted saying that mixing R&B is more challenging than rock. The sound of rock seems to have adopted a lot of pop trends, influenced by hip-hop. Do you feel rock mixing has changed? How so? Is it still easier?


I still stand by that statement. However, when I first made the statement, I assumed that people would print the rest of what I said! To clarify, the difference is that in the rock world, all of the effort to get quality is in the tracking. In the R&B world, everything is left for mixing. Tracking for R&B is just “get it to tape” – it’s a fix-in-the-mix philosophy, but in a lot of Pop, mixing is an integral part of the production. What I mean, is the producer is creating sounds, he’s mixing as he goes. When I get an R&B or Pop record in, the session has plugins on every track; he mixed as he went. Then I have to sort through all of that and pick it apart.

 

On the rock side, it’s rare that I get plugins on the tracks because the information is in the live capture. An incredible skill and talent has gone into getting the tracking right on the way in. I personally think the most intricate skill is required for tracking, a good tracking engineer can rival the best mixing engineer. Having said that, as to which is harder, I’m totally capable of screwing up either; they require different skill sets. The one thing that I’ve always maintained a great mixer should do is find the energy, the emotion, and what makes the song unique. Manny kind of went into that a bit, and I was mesmerized listening to his answers.At the end of the day mixing is not manipulation of sound – it’s emotion.

 

Very early in my career, I think I’d been engineering for 3 weeks, I did a bagpipe album for the top bagpiper in the world – it sounded like someone stomping through a field of cats. It was difficult to wrap my head around because when I EQ’d it (to smooth out the sound) the whole sound went away. So I accepted it and just turned to the playing. The album was well received – turns out that figuring out the emotion is what made it successful.

 

Our job is to ease the pain a bit in our culture. Even not so esoterically, what people remember is the emotion and the feeling they get from a song. Therein lies the secret to selling records, and perhaps why we’re not selling records now.

 

At what point do you say “I’m done” with a mix? What’s the feel?


I started mixing 35 years ago and I’m still waiting to finish a couple of those mixes. You don’t finish, you just run out of time. In classical and jazz, it may be possible to finish a mix. Currently with the internet, by the time you finish, by the end of the night, it’s obsolete. I enjoy staying ahead of trends, and contributing to the advancement of trends. But these trends always change. And really, you can hear a song a million different ways. I’ve actually recently gone and redone some mixes from a few months ago.

 

What trends have you stayed on the cutting edge of?


Two years ago I was predicting a shift and trend toward euro dance invading hip hop.

Another trend, Rock – just to stir the pot – I don’t think there is any Rock anymore, at least not that’s easily accessible. Rock is now Pop music with turned down guitars and sweet effects. The last great Rock record was Queens of The Stone Age. Rock is now pop with guitars instead of synthesizers. The drums aren’t even live.

 

Do you see more sample replacement or programming in Rock?


What’s the difference? When you change out the drums and make the drum timing so perfect, all you’ve done is create a programmed part. With live drums, you get the drummer, and you don’t dick with it. Maybe a couple nudges – but perfectly timed drum tracks is an anathema to Rock.

 

With R&B you have a steady drum track. We don’t rely on the drums to create the rhythm, we play against the perfect rhythm. You have things that move around it, that make it pocket. In Rock, the drum track should move. The drums on the Rolling Stones music, everybody’s following Keith – and that works. Had you quantized Charlies’ drums, then, Keith would have been out of time. The argument is not live or programmed, it’s perfect or emotional.

 

I once got the idea that ambiance is about one third of a mix. I have yet to feel other wise. To me, room, reverb, delay makes or breaks a mix. Where does it fall along your scale? How long do you spend crafting ambiance?


I spend an inordinate amount of time making ambiances. There’s two pan pots, there’s left and right and front to rear. The front to rear is imaginary – a person is at the other end of a gymnasium, and they yell – the initial sound hits my ear and my brain calculates where they are, 50-100ms. I get that early reflection, which cues my ear to the location and size of the space. With careful manipulation of reverb, echo, pre-delay, early reflections, you can place things pretty accurately.

To read the full detailed article see:  Dave Pensado Interview

July 19, 2011

Fender Super-Sonic 100 Review

We reviewed the Fender Super-Sonic 22 combo in September 2010, and it seduced us with its numerous positive features. A few months later, the American manufacturer decided to complete its range and launched the 100 Series including a 100-watt amp head, two speaker cabinets and a combo amp. Today, we want to examine the head closely…

The new 100 Series brings not only more output power, but also some very welcomed changes like an additional clean channel and a Notch Tune control in the lead channel. But let’s start at the beginning…

Unpacking

Fender Super-Sonic 100

Unpacking is rather painful because of its weight: 53 lbs. are no joke! Later on you’ll understand why the Super-Sonic 100 head is so heavy… The design is very nice and the head is available in two different finishes: Black/silver or Blond. We received the Blond version, which is a good thing because we like it better. However, the finish presented a minor problem: on one of the corners of the birch plywood cabinet, a small piece of vinyl covering was not perfectly glued. It’s a small detail but it’s a pity for an amp in this price range. The amp isn’t what you’d call compact (10.53″ x 26.25″ x 10.5″) but it includes many accessories: a nylon protection cover, a very rugged 4-button footswitch and a comprehensive user’s manual with diagrams.

Under the hood we discovered seven 12AX7 tubes for the preamp stage (the Super-Sonic 22 had only five preamp tubes), four 6L6 power tubes (twice as much as in the 22), and a pair of 12AT7 tubes for the reverb. This makes a total of 13 tubes — hopefully this won’t bring any bad luck! In short, this head is fully packed with valves, and also with a solid-state rectifier and a big transformer! Now you know why it is so heavy…

Now, let’s have a look at the front and rear panels.

Front

Fender Super-Sonic 100

The front panel provides controls for the two clean channels (yes, there are two, didn’t I mention that before?), for the lead channel and for the reverb. The controls of the clean channels are very simple: 3-band EQ (bass, mid, treble), gain and volume controls. A switch to the right of the gain allows you to select either the Showman circuitry (Twin Reverb Blackface) or the Bassman circuitry (Tweed Vintage). Note that if you crank up the volume of the clean channel, the gain acts as a single volume control like old vintage Fender amps did. Another switch turns the lead channel on. The latter offers more settings than the clean channel… First of all, it has two gain controls — primary and secondary gain — allowing you to set respectively the distortion amount and sustain. In fact, the second one allows you to thicken the sound and make everything sound fatter. You also get a 3-band EQ and a volume control. But the main new feature in this channel is the Notch Tune setting, which gives you the possibility to choose the frequency affected by the mid band of the EQ. This allows you to go from a typical American sound to a more “British” response and everything in between. As you can hear in the sound samples, this control changes the tone radically and allows you to freely shape your sound. We had already seen similar features in competitor products (Blackstar) and we are happy to find it again on Fender’s Super-Sonic! Let’s close this front panel overview with the reverb, a spring Accutronics system like on the small 22-watt combo we already reviewed: Why change a winning team?

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

There is no doubt that this amp will make many 6-string addicts green with envy after they read this review. This amp head is very close to being perfect: it provides a wide range of clean tones, it can deliver a good crunch sound and offers a very versatile lead channel thanks to its Notch Tune control. Add the spring reverb, the effect loop, the auto-bias facility, the damping control, the 25-watt mode, and the 4-button footswitch and you get a perfect amp… if you can afford it! In case you like Fender’s clean tone (but not only) and have the money, don’t hesitate and go for it!

Advantages:

  • Look and reliability
  • Available in black or blond finish
  • Two complementary clean channels
  • Crunch sound
  • Very effective lead channel
  • Notch Tune control that increases the possibilities greatly
  • Accutronics spring reverb
  • 100 or 25 watt selection
  • Perfect 4-button footswitch
  • Auto-bias
  • Damping control
  • FX loop

Drawbacks:

  • Rather expensive
  • Rather heavy

To read the full detailed review see:  Fender Super-sonic 100

July 15, 2011

Vocals Processing Tips: Part 2

Hard disk recording techniques have affected every aspect of recording, including vocals. Although overdubbing vocals has been a common technique for years, today’s programs let you do multiple tracks of vocals, and make a “composite” with all the best bits. We’ll cover how to do that, then talk a bit about compression and reverb.

Composite Vocal Tracks

Cutting and pasting has benefited vocals, as you can do multiple takes, and splice the best parts together to make the perfect “composite” vocal. Some producers feel that stitching together vocals doesn’t produce as natural a “feel” as a take that goes all the way through from beginning to end, while others believe that being able to choose from multiple takes allows creating a vocal with more range than might occur with a single take. If you want to try composite vocals, here are the basic steps.

Record the Takes

Record enough takes so there’s plenty of material to piece together a good performance (loop recording is particularly handy for doing vocals). While you’re in a recording mood, record a little bit of the track without any input signal. This can be handy to have around, for reasons described later.

Audition the Takes

Audition each take, and isolate the good parts (by cutting out unwanted sections). I recommend setting loop points around very short phrases.

Solo each take, one after the other. If you’re not going to use a take, cut the phrase. If a take is a candidate for the final mix, keep it.

Pick the top 3 or 4 candidates, and remove the equivalent sections from the rest of the tracks. Now repeat this procedure, phrase by phrase, until you’ve gone over the entire performance and found the best bits

Ligne de chant compilée

In Sonar, several takes of vocals have been recorded. A mute tool has muted portions of each track (the waveforms are shown as shaded), with the remaining parts making up the final vocal.

Next, listen to combinations of the various different phrases. Balance technical and artistic considerations; choose parts that flow well together as well as sound technically correct. Sometimes you might deliberately choose a less expressive rendition of a line if it comes just before an emotional high point, thus heightening the contrast.

Once you have the segments needed for a cohesive performance, erase the unused parts. If you want to archive everything “just in case,” go for it. But if after putting the part together you think it could be better, you might be better off re-cutting it than putting more hours into editing.

Ligne de chant compiléeSeveral takes of vocals were recorded into Cubase SX, and edited to create one final vocal. The program shows the elements that make up the final vocal by highlighting them in green.

Bounce the Takes

This isn’t absolutely necessary, but converting all the bits into a single track simplifies subsequent editing and processing.

Before bouncing, play the tune through from start to finish and match the segment levels as closely as possible. Also check the meters for any send bus or master bus the tracks are feeding, and adjust levels (if needed) so there’s no distortion. Generally, the bounced track will be derived from a bus or master; if there’s distortion, the bounced track will have distortion too.

This is also where the recorded noise might come in handy. Sometimes I’ve had to do a quick fade on the end of one segment, and a fade in on the beginning of another, leaving a dead silent gap between phrases. Layering in a bit of the noise signal gives better continuity, and keeps the part from sounding too “assembled.”

After everything’s set, implement the program’s bounce or mix to hard disk function. You can typically bounce to an empty track, or “render” the audio to disk and bring it back into the project.

Edit the Composite Track

At this point, I bring the composite track into a digital audio editor for clean-up. Here are some typical processes:

  • Phrase-by-phrase gain adjustments. If a phrase has mismatched levels, use the program’s level change DSP or mix automation to fix the problem.
  • Fix breath noises and inhales. There might be “flammed” inhales from combining two different takes, so cut one. However, don’t eliminate all inhales and breath noises — they keep things “human.”
  • Add overall dynamics control, reverb, EQ, echo, etc. if needed. Do not add these while cutting individual takes; it will be much harder to match the effect, and in the case of reverb, tails might get cut off. Adding processing after optimizing the entire track will give the best results.

Tidy Up Your Hard Disk


After the vocals are done, check how your program deals with deleting unused segments, as this can reclaim significant space from your hard drive.

Now let’s take a look at compression…

Reverb Tips for Vocals

Nothing “gift wraps” a vocal better than some tasty reverb. My favorite reverb for voice is a natural acoustic space, but as reverb rooms are an endangered species, you’ll likely use a digital reverb. Reverb settings are a matter of taste, but two parameters are particularly important.

Waves RVerb (Renaissance Reverb)

A reverb’s Predelay and Diffusion parameters are crucial to getting good vocal sounds. This reverb, the RVerb plug-in from WAVES, offers an exceptional amount of control.

Diffusion: With vocals, I prefer low diffusion, where each reflection is more “separated.” Low diffusion settings often sound terrible with percussion, as the individual echoes can have an effect like marbles bouncing on a steel plate. But with vocals, the sparser amount of reflections prevent the voice from being overwhelmed by too “lush” a reverb sound.

Predelay: This works well in the 50-100 ms range. The delay allows the first part of the vocal to punch through without reverb, while the more sustained parts get the full benefit of the reverberated sound.

To read the full article see: Vocals Processing Tips Part 2

July 11, 2011

AVID Mbox Pro Review

Filed under: audio interface — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:37 am

AVID, formerly Digidesign, took advantage of last year’s re-branding to present the third generation of its digital audio budget interfaces: the Mbox series. Today, we’ll give the Mbox Pro a try, the biggest member of the family.

For many years, Mbox interfaces were the entrance ticket to Pro Tools and were an essential tool for home studio owners who wanted to use the famous Digidesign (now AVID) platform. But things have changed a lot recently and now Pro Tools 9 can be used with any digital audio interface. The Mbox series also changed. Even if they already supported other sequencers in the past, they can now be used (and more than ever) with other programs like Cubase, Logic and company. However, the link between Pro Tools and the Mbox is still very strong, especially in terms of some very appealing bundles. Let’s start by unpacking the Mbox Pro.

 

Out of the Box

AVID Mbox Pro

Inside the nice black box with the AVID logo is the interface itself, which makes a good impression at first sight. The design is very appealing, professional but not austere. It looks quite sturdy due to the fact that it has a metal housing and not less due to its heaviness (6.2 lb!). With such a weight, you can be sure it wont slip down from your desk! The dimensions are also generous: 13.7″ x 7.6″ x 2.3″. The knobs are made out of plastic but seem quite rugged. The look of the new Mbox generation is pretty convincing. AVID did a very nice job compared to former versions. However, mobile sound freaks will find that the weight and bulky dimensions of the Mbox Pro are no advantage. In that case we recommend the Mbox and Mbox Mini, which are lighter and ought to be enough if you don’t need many ins/outs. However, it’s important to point out that the three interfaces don’t have the same specs (S/N ratio, dynamic range, etc.), so the differences between the three models are not limited to the number of connections.

Now, let’s have a look at the front and rear panels…

Panels

AVID Mbox Pro

On the well-equipped rear panel you have six analog outs and four analog ins on 1/4″ TRS jacks with switchable +4dBu/-10dBV sensitivity. You also get four inserts on 1/4″ TRS jacks. The inserts are placed between the preamp and the A/D converter in the signal path. The effect send and return are in the same TRS jack (tip=send, ring=return, sleeve=ground). You also get a stereo Aux input on RCAs or minijack. On the right corner there are two mic inputs (3 and 4) on XLR connectors, while on the left corner you have a pair of FireWire ports. Notice that the interface must be connected to its external PSU because it cannot be powered via the FireWire bus of the computer. A 1/4″ footswitch jack will allow you to punch in and out while recording or start playing back audio — very practical! Finally, a D-Sub port provides you with a MIDI in/out on 5-pin DIN connectors, a coaxial S/PDIF connector and a BNC to feed it a wordclock signal using the provided breakout cable. The only regret of the connections is the lack of an ADAT connector!

AVID Mbox Pro

The front panel is also very comprehensive: a pair of XLR/TRS combos for mic inputs 1 and 2 and the two instrument inputs. They all have two switches: the first one to switch between the front inputs 1/2 (mic and instrument) and the two rear line inputs, and the second one to activate the soft limiter (which is a very rare feature on interfaces in this price range). Also notice that all four gain controls are push/pull pots allowing you to activate -20dB pads. In the middle of the front panel, you’ll find four meters with eight-LEDs each. Nice! Next to the meters, there are two buttons: the first one can be assigned to different Pro Tools functions (we already mentioned that the link between the house’s own hardware and software is still strong!) while the other one allows you to turn the 48V phantom power on/off.

You also get two fully independent headphones outputs: they are assigned to different channels and have their own volume control. Sweet! On the right corner you’ll find a big volume control as well as three keys assigned to the master out: a Dim/Mute switch that allows you to cut or decrease the volume of the main output, a Mono switch, and a Speaker button to toggle between three pairs of monitor speakers connected to the analog outs on the rear panel. Once again: very nice!

Now, let’s talk about the software…

Conclusion

The new Mbox Pro interface is a success: it offers a very nice design, it is robust, provides very comprehensive connections, and includes an easy-to-use virtual mixer. Add the effect section and you get a very appealing audio interface, even if it is not perfect. In fact, we missed an ADAT in/out and some additional effects like an EQ and/or a compressor. Moreover, the weight and the size of this interface are not that convenient for mobile recording.

 

When it comes to software, although the system worked perfectly with Cubase, we recommend to use it with Pro Tools for several reasons. First, the convenient Multi button you can assign to different functions, but especially because of the Pro Tools 9 bundles that can save you up to $200 on the sequencer price (the Mbox Pro alone costs $729 and only $999 with Pro Tools 9). Users of other sequencers might want to check competitor products that provide more features for the same price. But if you are looking for a high-quality audio interface and want to start working with Pro Tools 9 without spending a lot of money, the Mbox range is the way to go.

Advantages:

  • Sturdy
  • Nice design
  • Comprehensive analog connections
  • Good sounding preamps and converters
  • Virtual mixer
  • Integrated reverb and delay effects
  • Appealing bundle price with Pro Tools 9

Drawbacks:

  • A bit expensive without bundle
  • Heavy and bulky
  • No ADAT connection
  • No EQ nor compressor in the FX section

To read the full detailed article see:  Avid MBox Pro Review

July 8, 2011

Moog Music Slim Phatty Review

Five years after having introduced the Little Phatty, Moog decided to launch the compact synth in module version. Did the Slim Phatty succeed in making the famous Moog sound available to anyone?

The Little Phatty is the last project of the late Bob Moog who passed away in August 2005. A few months before passing way, he recruited Cyril Lance who finished the work of his master. The first Little Phatty saw the daylight for the first time at the Frankfurt Musikmesse in March 2006. The unit is a mix between a Prodigy and a Source, two synths based on the Minimoog D and developed in the early 80’s. In fact, the Little Phatty resembles the Prodigy in its looks and the use of two VCOs, but it takes advantage of the memories and programming method of the Source. In late 2010, Moog Music announced an affordable Little Phatty module. Don’t be fooled — affordable Moog means under $1000. Is the Slim Phatty the small synth everyone was waiting for?

Lightweight

Moog Music Slim Phatty

The Slim Phatty is Moog’s “feather-light” analog synth, considering that it weights less than 6.6 lb. and is 20″ width. Its fully metallic construction is very solid and even if the metal sheets are slim, they don’t bend easily. Like all Moog products, the housing was not screen printed but coated with Lexan instead. The front panel features not less than 34 switches with LEDs (some of them are two-colored, red/orange, depending on the status of the device), four big controls surrounded by 15 red diodes (which show the value of the parameters assigned), two standard controls (a bit too responsive) for tuning and volume setting, one push-encoder for value setting, program selection and browsing), and 18 LEDs. The controls and encoders are a bit loose, so they don’t feel as solid as the ones on the Voyager. A 2×16 light blue LCD display shows additional parameters while editing or playing.

The connections on the rear panel are a bit recessed, which allows you to mount the unit on a standard 19″ rack without any cable problems. The unit requires 3U in a 19″ rack. As it is always the case with Moog, the device is equipped with high-quality connections firmly screwed to the housing. You get one USB connector, one phones out, one mono audio out, one audio input, four CV/Gate ins, MIDI in/out/thru, a power switch, and a power connector (universal internal power supply… thank you!). The type-B USB connector only transfers MIDI signals. The CV/Gate inputs allow you to control the Slim Phatty with an external analog controller (foot controller, modular synth, sequencer, Theremin, etc.): they are connected to the pitch (CV), filter (CV), volume (CV) and keyboard (Gate). It’s a pity that Moog didn’t provide optional CV/Gate outs like on the Little Phatty: they would make the Slim Phatty the perfect USB–Midi–CV/Gate converter. It’s also a pity that Moog placed the phones out on the rear panel while it was conveniently placed on the front panel of the Little Phatty…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The Slim Phatty is the most affordable Moog synth ever. Described and marketed as the antithesis of the luxurious Voyager XL, it still provides the typical Moog sound without making you go bankrupt. It is well thought-out, very simple to use and easy to transport. However, there are sacrifices to be made: it has no directly accessible noise generator nor a comprehensive set of modulations. Nevertheless, for studio or live musicians who want to add the typical Moog sound to their setup without mortgaging their house or having to stack modules in order to build an analog polyphonic Moog, the Slim Phatty is a very nice solution that combines a real analog sound with an affordable price.

Advantages:

  • Typical fat and punchy Moog sound
  • Oscillators with continuous waveforms
  • 1 to 4-pole filter with overdrive
  • Very fast envelopes
  • Integrated arpeggiator
  • Microtonal scales
  • MIDI CCs can be sent and received
  • Responsiveness of the controls
  • Well thought-out design
  • Compact size
  • Affordable price

Drawbacks:

  • Very limited modulations
  • Noise generator only for modulations
  • No ring modulation
  • No additional effects

To read the full detailed article see:  Moog Music Slim Phatty Review

Vocals Processing Tips: Part 1

It was late at night, at a live-in-concert recording session in Germany. As several thousand fans waited anxiously, the vocalist walked onstage, and picked up a set of headphones. I saw him plug them into the mixer, and figured he was going to make one final check of his vocal sound before the band kicked in. He then turned the preamp gain control up full…not too unusual, as mics don’t have a lot of gain. But then he held the headphones up to his mouth and — started singing. He had plugged the headphones into the mic in, not the headphone out…and he had done it on purpose. Is this what recording vocals in the 21st century is about?

Well, the answer is yes…and no. No, in the sense that a well-recorded vocal through a high-end mic feeding a state-of-the-art preamp remains a supremely important part of the recording art. Yes, in the sense that it underscores a fundamental truth about recording today: anything goes.

The tools of the vocal trade have undergone as dramatic a transformation as the recording process itself. Microphones are better and cheaper; today’s “budget” mics sometimes outperform the champions of yesteryear. Preamps, whether tube or solid state, have noise levels that are measurable only with the most sensitive test equipment. Processing gear ranges from “vocal strips” dedicated solely to vocal, to technologies such as Antares’Auto-Tune (which can correct out-of-tune-vocals) and mic modeling, which mimics the characteristics of particular “signature” mics. Compressors, reverbs, even vocal booths have all enjoyed the results of technological progress.

So what’s the best way to record vocals these days? The answer, of course, is that anything goes. Following are some of the possibilities.

Recording Vocals

Few topics inspire more debate than the optimum vocal mic and preamp. But note that a mic and preamp combination that sounds great with one vocalist might not work with another. Case in point: once while recording, my voice was recorded with a sub-$100 dynamic mic and a $995 condenser mic. The unanimous agreement was that the dynamic sounded better.

Was it because the mic was better? No. From any objective standpoint, it was inferior. But it had some response anomalies that flattered my voice. The condenser mic was accurate, but my voice didn’t need accuracy: It needed a high-frequency lift, and warmth from the proximity effect (i.e., the tendency of a dynamic to produce more bass as you sing closer to it).

I sometimes wish that all mics looked the same, and had no labels on them. That would force engineers to take a fresh approach with every session. It’s very easy to rely on using old favorites — the assumption is that the mic that worked great on the last session will be equally good on the current session, but that isn’t always true. Furthermore, there’s a matching issue between mics and preamps, so mic X might sound great with preamp A and not so great with preamp B.

Bottom line: Try every mic with a vocalist, record the results, then choose which one sounds most appropriate. I suggest comparing two mics at a time to prevent “option overload.” Choose the best of each pair, then have a runoff among the winners.

Let’s take a look at some other tips…

Synthesizing Vocal Harmonies

Normally, I sing my own harmonies. But sometimes, pitch shifters — because they’re not perfect — add timbral and timing imperfections that actually sound better for some applications.

 

Here’s an example of creating harmonies using Sonar’s real-time pitch shifting plug-in (the principles are the same for other programs). Note that Sonar Producer Edition also includes a high-quality, but non-real-time, pitch stretch processor. I usually use the real-time plug-in to get the harmonies right, then go back and process the files destructively using the higher-quality, non-real-time algorithm.

Harmonisation d'une partie de chantThis shows harmonies being generated within Sonar using real-time plug-ins. Higher-quality, offline plug-ins can be used for the final processing.

Note that there are four tracks of vocals: The teal one at the top is the original vocal. The violet one below that is a “cloned” version, which has been processed with the doubling technique mentioned previously.

The next track (blue) is also a cloned track, but it’s being processed through the pitch shifter set to a major 3rd. However, note that some elements have been cut from this track and moved to the next track down, which is processed through the pitch shifter set to a minor 3rd. As Sonar doesn’t know which notes should receive minor 3rd or major 3rd harmonization, you have to cut up the track appropriately, and move the right phrases or notes to the right tracks. This may require zooming way in on the cloned track, so you can make cuts in the space between phrases.

The standard pitch shifting caution applies — the further you stretch pitch, the less realistic the sound. Sonar’s real-time pitch shifter does not preserve formants during shifts; however, when pitching up a major third the formant change adds a bit of voice-on-helium effect, which when mixed behind the main vocal, can actually sound pretty cool.

Starting with Sonar 5, the Producer Edition includes Roland’s VariPhrase technology in their V-Vocal plug-in. With this plug-in, you can “draw in” harmonics and constrain a melody to particular notes. This makes the process of harmonization much easier, as does a similar feature in Samplitude and Digital Performer. There are also programs like Antares Harmony Engine, and zplane’s Vielklang (among others) that are designed to generate harmonies.

To read the full detailed article see: Vocal Processing Tips Part 1

Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2 Review

Filed under: DJ, Software — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:11 am

Having reviewed the Traktor Kontrol S4 at the end of 2010, I got an email from Native Instruments in early April offering me a free upgrade for Traktor Pro 2. The differences between both S4 and PRO 2 versions are not so big as you’ll see in this review, however there is an important gap between the previous Traktor version and the upcoming Traktor 2.

Installation

Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2

Like every Native Instruments software, you’ll have to authorize the product via the service center: a small interface that allows you to enter your activation key, follow the recommended updates and download the documentation and drivers relative to your NI products. You will have no problems during the installation. I have three Traktor versions installed in my computer to compare them for the review: Traktor PRO 1.2.7, Traktor PRO S4 1.0.1 and the brand new Traktor PRO 2.

 

The first thing I did was check if my Numark Omni Control worked properly using the Setup Wizard in Traktor 2. As expected, the controller as well as its internal sound card were recognized and all controls worked properly. As a reminder, you’ll find all supported controllershere.  In fact, you’ll notice that among all 42 control surface listed in Traktor, only two of them are not officially supported by Traktor 2: Allen & Heath XONE 3D and VESTAX VCM 100. I don’t have any of these controllers, so I couldn’t do a test, but my guess is that they do work…

The Traktor Range

A quick overview of the Traktor 2 range (see all features here).

Traktor DUO: the version just below Traktor PRO with only two decks, two FX processors, six effects, no loop recorder…

Traktor PRO: this version has four decks, four FX processors, 30 effects. It lacks nothing except for a timecode control for vinyls.

Traktor SCRATCH (either in DUO or PRO version): adds two major features, timecode control for vinyls and a native audio interface (Audio 6 with DUO and Audio 10 with PRO).

Tracktor LE: Traktor’s light version. You get no loop recorder and no sample decks, and you get only three effects. This version is only available bundled with other products. Here is a list of all products that include Traktor LE.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Expectations for Traktor 2 were high, but this is no revolution. The main improvements in this new version are the samplers and the loop recorder. These features alone are worth the upgrade price. All new effects sound excellent, even if they won’t change the world. The waveform display looks very nice but is certainly not essential for most of us. However, Traktor is still very effective if you want to get perfect mixes. Furthermore, everyone will appreciate its reliability and stability. Nevertheless, Native Instruments could have been a bit more ambitious, for example in developing more sophisticated crossfaders like some competitors have (e.g. Avid’s Torq 2.0).

Advantages:

  • Samplers and loop recorder
  • New waveform display
  • Some additional effects
  • Still very reliable
  • Upgrade price

Drawbacks:

  • No sophisticated crossfader

To read the full detailed article see:  Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2 Review

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