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March 11, 2011

Mixing in a Plug-In World

Filed under: Mixing reviews, Plugin — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:17 am

You gotta love plug-ins, but they’ve changed the rules of mixing. In the hardware days, the issue was whether you had enough hardware to deal with all your tracks. Now that you can insert the same plug-in into multiple tracks, the question is whether your processor can handle all of them.

Does it matter? After all, mixing is about music, balance, and emotional impact—not processing. But it’s also about fidelity, because you want good sound. And that’s where Mr. Practical gets into a fight with Mr. Power.

The Plug-in Problem

Plug-ins require CPU power. CPUs can’t supply infinite amounts of power. Get the picture? Run too many plug-ins, and your CPU will act like an overdrawn bank account. You’ll hear the results: Audio gapping, stuttering, and maybe even a complete audio engine nervous breakdown.

And in a cruel irony, the best-sounding plug-ins often drain the most CPU power. This isn’t an ironclad rule; some poorly-written plug-ins are so inefficient they draw huge amounts of power, while some designers have developed ultra-efficient algorithms that sound great and don’t place too many demands on your CPU. But in general, it holds true.

Bottom line: If you need to use processing in your mix, you want as much available power as possible. Here are the Top Ten tips that’ll help you make it happen.

1. Upgrade Your CPU

Let’s get the most expensive option out of the way first. Because plug-ins eat CPU cycles, the faster your processor can execute commands, the more plug-ins it can handle. Although there are a few other variables, as a rule of thumb higher clock speeds = more power for plug-ins. Still running in the sub-GigaHertz range? Time for an upgrade. Cool bonus: Pretty much everything else will happen faster, too.

2. Increase Latency

Réglage de latence

Fig. 1: Click for full image and description.

And in the spirit of equal time, here’s the least expensive option: Increase your system latency. When you’re recording, especially if you’re doing real-time processing (e.g., playing guitar through a guitar amp simulation plug-in) or playing soft synths via keyboard, low latency is essential so that there’s minimal delay between playing a note and hearing it. However, that forces your CPU to work a lot harder. Mixing is a different deal: You’ll never really notice 10 or even 25ms of latency. The higher the latency, the more plug-ins you’ll be able to run. Some apps let you adjust latency from a slider, found under something like “Preferences.” Or, you may need to adjust it in an applet that comes with your sound card or audio interface (Fig. 1).

Now let’s take a closer look…

9. Use Snapshot Automation

Plug-ins aren’t the only things that stress out your CPU: Complex, real-time automation also chows down on CPU cycles. So, simplifying your automation curves will leave more power available for the CPU to run plugs. Your host may have a “thinning” algorithm; use it, as you generally don’t need that much automation data to do the job (particularly if you did real-time automation with fader moves). But the ultimate CPU saver is using snapshot automation (which in many cases is all you really need anyway) instead of continuous curves. This process basically takes a “snapshot” of all the settings at a particular point on the DAW’s timeline, and when the DAW passes through that time, the settings are recalled and applied.

10. Check Your Plug-in’s Automation Protocol

Our last tip doesn’t relate to saving CPU power, but to preserving sound quality. Many plug-ins and soft synths offer multiple ways to automate: By recording the motion of on-screen controls, driving with MIDI controller data, using host automation (like VST or DXi), etc. However, not all automation methods are created equal. For example, moving panel controls may give higher internal resolution than driving via MIDI, which may be quantized into 128 steps. Bottom line: Using the right automation will make for smoother filter sweeps, less stair-stepping, and other benefits.

Okay . . . there are your Top Ten tips, but here’s a bonus one: Any time you go to insert a plug-in, ask yourself if you really need to use it. A lot of people start their mix a track at a time, and optimize the sound for that track by adding EQ, reverb, etc. Then they bring in other tracks and optimize those. Eventually, you end up with an overprocessed, overdone sound that’s just plain annoying. Instead, try setting up a mix first with your instruments more or less “naked.” Only then, start analyzing where any problems might lie, then go about fixing them. Often tracks that may not sound that great in isolation mesh well when played together.

To read the full detailed article see:  Mixing in a Plug-In World

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February 17, 2011

Extreme Drum Processing: Exploring the Art of Filthy Signal Mutation

Filed under: Drums/Percussion, Mixing reviews, Plugin, Software — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:43 am

I like music with a distinctly electronic edge, but also want a human “feel.” Trying to resolve these seemingly contradictory ideals has led to some fun experimentation, but one of the more recent “happy accidents” was finding out what happens when you apply heavy signal processing to multitracked drums played by a human drummer. I ended up with a sound that slid into electronic tracks as easily as a debit card slides into an ATM machine, yet with a totally human feel.

This came about because Discrete Drums, who make rock-oriented sample libraries of multitracked drums (tracks are kick, snare, stereo toms, stereo room mic tracks, and stereo room ambience), received requests for a more extreme library for hip-hop/dance music. I had already started using their CDs for this purpose, and when I played some examples of loops I had done, they asked whether I’d like to do a remixed sample CD with stereo loops. Thus, the “Turbulent Filth Monsters” project was born, which eventually became a sample library (originally distributed by M-Audio, and now by Sonoma Wire Works).

Although I used the Discrete Drums sample library CDs and computer-based plug-ins, the following techniques also apply to hardware processors used in conjunction with drum machines that have individual outs, or multitracked drums recorded on a multitrack recorder (or sample CD tracks bounced over to a multitrack). Try some of these techniques, and you’ll create drum sounds that are as unique as a fingerprint – even if they came from a sample CD.

Effects Automation and Real Time Control

Editing parameters in real time lets you “play” an effect along with the beat. This is a good thing. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to vary several parameters at once while mixing the track down to a loop, so you’ll want to record these changes as automation.

Hardware signal processors can often accept MIDI controllers for automation. If so, you can sync a sequencer up to whatever is playing the tracks. Then, deploy a MIDI control surface (like the Mackie Control, Novation Nocturn, etc.) to record control data into the sequencer. Once in the sequencer, edit the controller data if needed.

If the processor cannot accept control signals, then you’ll need to make these changes in real time. If you can do this as you mix, fine. Otherwise, bounce the processed signal to another track so it contains the changes you want.

Software plug-ins for DAWs are a whole other matter, as there are several possible automation scenarios:

  • Use a MIDI control surface to alter parameters, while recording the data to a MIDI track (hopefully this will drive the effect on playback)
  • Twiddle the plug-in’s virtual knobs in real time, and record those changes within the host program
  • Use non-real time automation envelopes
  • Record data that takes the form of envelopes, which you can then edit
  • Use no automation at all. In this case, you can send the output through a mixer and bounce it to another track while varying the parameter. This can require a little after-the-fact trimming to compensate for latency (i.e., delay caused by going through the mixer then returning back into the computer) issues.

For example, with VST Automation (Fig. 1), a plug-in will have Read and Write Automation buttons.

Ohm Force Predatohm & VST automation

Fig. 1: Click on the Write Automation button with a VST plug-in, and when you play or record, tweaking controls will write automation into your project.

If you click on the Write Automation button, any changes you make to automatable parameters will be written into your project. This happens regardless of whether the DAW is in record or playback mode.

Now let’s take a closer look at some other plug-ins…

So What’s the Payoff?

Drum loops played by a superb human drummer, with all those wonderful little timing nuances that are the reason drum machines have not taken over the world, will give your tracks a “feel” that you just can’t get with drum machines. But if you add on really creative processing, the sounds will be so electronified that they’ll fit in perfectly with more radical instruments synths, highly processed vocals, and technoid guitar effects.

So, get creative – you’ll have a good time doing it, and your recordings won’t sound like million others. What good are all these great new toys if you don’t exploit them?

To read the full detailed article see:  Extreme Drum Processing

October 27, 2010

SPL DrumXchanger Review

Filed under: Drums/Percussion, Plugin, Software — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:17 pm

Drum replacement tools were very rare a decade ago but have become much more common in modern music productions. When the inventor of the famous Transient Designer launched its own sound replacement plug-in, it was obvious for us at AudioFanzine to want to test this tool!

Application

SPL DrumXchanger

With the evolution of music production workflows, the trend seems to be to delay artistic and technical decisions of each production step as much as possible. On the other hand, recording techniques in home studios don’t really allow users to get a fully satisfying result, which can be heard in the final production. Sound replacement tools have become a necessity when it comes to improving the sound of a recording or providing it a different frequency or dynamic response. That’s why SPL developed the DrumXchanger, a mono/stereo plug-in available in VST, AU and RTAS formats, that allows the user to trigger a sound using another one. But as we’ll see it later, the plug-in can do much more!

The DrumXchanger requires an iLok and it is provided with an additional file that includes a small sample bank so you can replace the recorded sound with SPL samples. Installing both files (application + sound bank) is easy and quick; you may install the sound bank in the directory you wish. When you run the DrumXchanger (I inserted it in a ProTools track) you see a… grea user interface! Nothing sad indeed: the DrumXchanger just inherited the visual characteristic of the Analog Code plug-in suite… It’s true, it doesn’t look very joyful — a bit more color would brighten up my session — but then again, we are here to work, right? What are we waiting for!

Five in a Row

The first thing that strikes you when the DrumXchanger opens is the intuitive layout of the different processing stages. In fact, the plug-in is divided into five clear and distinguishable sections, each of them with its own special editing and setting possibilities…

Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

In a market packed with developers who constantly offer new triggering plug-ins, SPL distinguishes itself once again from with a sound replacer that provides really effective detection and sound shaping features. With a dual detection system, two Transient Designers, three dual filters, a pitch shifter, and a compressor, the DrumXchanger is much more than a simple triggering plug-in. It is a comprehensive sound processing tool that provides plenty of settings for you to always achieve the sound you need. At $199.66 + VAT, the DrumXchanger is a no-brainer!

Advantages:

  • Overall structure, layout and design
  • Sound possibilities
  • Two Transient Designers in a single plug-in!
  • Dual detection system

Drawbacks:

  • Delay control is too imprecise
  • Hey Mr. SPL, how about including more samples with the DrumXchanger? Because your samples sound really good…

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  SPL DrumXchanger Review

June 18, 2010

Vuvuzela Killers

Filed under: Plugin — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:23 am

How to Filter Out Vuvuzela Noise from FIFA World Cup Games

Let’s face it, unless you are actually in South Africa attending the World Cup and blowing your very own Vuvuzela, you can’t stand the cacophony that’s blaring out of your flat screen TV in the form of a thousand swarming mosquitoes. Luckily, a few plugins have been quickly developed to filter out that so so annoying buzzzzzzzz.

fifa logoYou can imagine my disbelief, Friday night watching the French game opening night of the FIFA World Cup 2010, out on the lawn, on a beautiful summer night, with 100 or so other fans, glaring at a big big screen, with a cool beer in my hand, when suddenly this annoying buzz started pervading my utopia, and never stopped.  First I thought it was a technical error, on the broadcasting station side, or maybe even the projector/mixer that we managed to connect.  Then I thought, as the night progressed, that maybe the beer is getting to my head and there is a swarm of locust about to descend on us like one of the 10 plagues of Egypt.

But no, I asked around, everyone shrugged their shoulders and said: “ah yes, it’s the African plastic trumpet thing”.  What??!! Well, make them stop!  How can we sit through a month of games with this horrible noise in the background.  Sure if I was in the stadium myself, perhaps, a little tipsy, I would think this was the greatest invention to football games, and already start looking into starting a small import business from China.  But I am not.  What are we going to do?  Well, luckily for us, we don’t need to do anything.  Several, enterprising gear manufacturers quickly cooked up some vuvuzela’s noise reduction/filtering plugins, to make it all go away.
Let’s take a look, eh?

Waves’ Vuvuzella Killa

vuvuzela killaWorking in conjunction with a major television broadcaster, Waves say they have crafted a preset processing chain which decreases Vuvuzela noise: The WNS Waves Noise Suppressor and the Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer. Together, they not only minimize Vuvuzela noise, they increase the intelligibility of the game announcers’ play-by-play action and color commentary, Waves assures.

The processing chain for Vuvuzela noise reduction is now available as load-and-use sessions for Pro Tools, Waves MultiRack, and Cubase.

Waves noise reductionparametric eqHow Does it Work?

A combination of dynamic broadband noise suppression and notch filtering are utilized to create the Vuvuzela noise reduction processing chain. Routing schemes and parameter settings were adjusted, contrasted and, compared; multiple instances of each plugin, with different settings, were ultimately used to achieve optimal results, according to Waves.

Yet, the question I would like to pose to Waves is:  With which major broadcaster have you managed to achieve these results?… so I can tune in!

To see more noise reduction solutions see:  Vuvuzela Killers

June 3, 2009

Waves & Maserati – All Revved Up and Ready to Go!

Waves Tony Maserati Collection: The Test

The Maserati collection represents a meeting of industry titans. Waves, one of the earliest and most enduring audio plug-ins companies, has made its reputation on quality bundles of their own plug-ins such as the Gold, Platinum and Diamond bundles as well as emulations of some of the most respected names in studio hardware from API to SSL. Tony Maserati is a multi-platinum, Grammy winning engineer with mixing credits including Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, the Black Eyed Peas, John Legend and Kelly Clarkson. What Waves and Tony Maserati have done is to put together some of Tony’s tried and true combinations of EQ, compression and effects into a simple, intuitive package. Basically, we’re being invited into Tony’s audio world and getting a chance to benefit from his experience in our mixes.

What You Get

The Maserati collection is six plug-ins specifically designed for the primary instruments of most mixes. They are the VX1 for lead and harmony vocals, the ACG for acoustic guitars, the GTi for electric guitars (and horns depending on the preset), the HMX for keyboards, the B72 for bass and finally the DRM for all of the individual drums in a standard studio kit. Atypical of most EQ and compression plug-ins, the Maserati collection also offers built-in effects on each of the six plugs. These effects include reverb and in some instances a delay as well (like on the GTi and VX1). The FX knobs control the overall amount of the effect but in a very general way. On occasion you’re also offered some additional controls like a “Wet” knob(on the HMX) a “Tone” control (on the B72), “Excite” and “Pre Delay” (on the ACG) and even “Vibro” and “Chorus” (on the Gti). Overall, the effects are well thought out, appropriate and sound great.

The Look and Feel

The first thing I noticed about the Tony Maserati collection is that visually it stands apart from a lot of available audio plug-ins in that it’s more fanciful and artistic in its design and doesn’t have a hardware equivalent in the physical gear world. The best description I can give would be to say it looks like a cross between an old wooden radio and the dashboard of some vintage automobile. The way the knobs work and the lights glow has a very comforting, warm look and feel to it. There’s a method to this madness as well: By leaving out actual frequency notations, delay times and almost all numbers, we’re forced (in the best possible way) to use our ears and not our eyes to mix. This is a borderline radical notion these days when we’ve become used to typing 200hz and minus 1.5 into the windows of our EQ plug-ins. By changing our workflow, we’re compelled to listen instead of simply expecting a result that we’ve gotten hundreds of times before.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Overall, I’d have to say the plug-in world is a better place with the Maserati collection in it. And I’m not the only one who feels this way as evidenced by it’s selection for the 2009 Musikmesse International Press Award for best new studio recording effects software. There is absolutely no doubt that each of the six Maserati plug-ins has its own personality and multiple personalities at that. You can think of these plug-ins as the audio equivalent to the Mac OS. In other words, there’s a lot under the hood and you don’t need to know all the details to get great results. The plug-ins are a bit CPU hungry and it was pretty much all my 17” 2.16 Intel Core Duo MacBook Pro could do to keep up with all the plugs at once. That being said, as a go-to spice for a particular job, these plug-ins are exceptional. As Tony Maserati says in his video, every mix is a custom job and if you keep that in mind then using the plug-ins from this collection, they’ll provide you with an exceptional palette for your future mixes. Price: $800 MSRP approx $600 street (the price of a decent mid-level outboard pre amp or compressor).

Pluses:

  • Superb look and feel
  • Unique sound-sculpting approach that makes you use your ears
  • Simple to use with great results that can be achieved quickly
  • The GTi plug-in is exceptional

Drawbacks:

  • A little CPU hungry
  • In certain instances more detailed options for tone control would be helpful
  • A bit pricey

To read the full detailed article see:  Waves Tony Maserati Collection Review

February 11, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo SM Pro Audio V-Machine

Filed under: namm 2009, Plugin — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:37 am

Exclusive presentation of the SM Pro Audio V-Machine hardware plug-ins host, by Peter Schlossnagel.

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.

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