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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

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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

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