AF’s Weblog

June 1, 2012

How to Get the Pumping Drums Effect with Sidechain Compression

To read the full article see:  Sidechain Compression

Sidechaining has been around for years; this is the process of using one signal to control another. A couple classic examples are using a kick drum to gate a bass part, or doing de-essing – isolating the high sibilant frequencies from a vocal, and using those to trigger compression so that the sibilants come down in volume.

But in the digital age, we can do a lot more with sidechaining. One of the most popular applications is with dance music, where sidechaining can create the “heavy pumping” electronica drum sound used by artists like Eric Prydz and others.

We’ll describe how to do this with Cakewalk Sonar, although the same principle applies to other programs that allow for sidechaining. Sonar allows sidechaining for several effects, including compression, so that one instrument can control the compression characteristics of another instrument. This offers a variety of effects, including a “pumping” drum sound for multitracked drum parts; we’ll do that by setting up the snare to control compression for all drum tracks.

Fig. 1: You’ll need a drum submix bus to create an overall drum sound.

The first step is to create a drum submix bus, and send the drum tracks to it (Fig. 1). We need this submix so the entire drum track can be processed by the sidechained compressor. To create the submix bus, right-click in an empty space in the bus pane and select “Insert Stereo Bus.” To create a send in track view, right-click in a blank space in the track title bar and select “Insert Send.” From the menu that appears, select the send destination. Make sure you feed the bus pre-fader, and turn the individual drum channel faders down so that only the bus contributes the drum sound to the master.

Fig. 2: Assign the Drum Submix out to your main stereo output.

Let’s take a closer look…

….

Create a second pre-fader send in the snare track, and assign its out to the bus feeding the sidechain input.

Fig. 7: We’re almost there – it’s time to adjust the compressor.

To adjust the compressor, start with the compression attack time set to 0 ms; the drum sound will essentially disappear when the snare hits because the gain is being reduced so much. Gradually increase the attack time to let through more of the initial snare hit, and add a fair amount of release (250-500 ms) to increase the apparent amount of pumping.

And there you have it – the pumping drum sound. May it go over well on the dance floor!

To read the full article see:  Sidechain Compression

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April 20, 2012

Mixing Rap Vocals – Part 3: Compression

Filed under: Compressors, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:54 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals: Compression

Time for the third installment of the Mixing Rap Vocals series: Compression.

I highly recommend you check out part 1 & part 2 before reading this article.

Compression is a difficult subject because there is a lot you can do with it. So let’s look at the main reasons to grab a compressor before getting into some of the more intricate uses.

Quick Macro-Dynamic Control

Macro dynamics refer to words and phrases. These are the clear dynamics you can hear as “this part is louder, that part is softer.” The most transparent way to get things sounding even is to actually automate the vocals manually. But sometimes time doesn’t allow for this approach. So if you aren’t automating, a light ratio, slow attack, slow release, just catching the louder moments with the threshold is a good way to even things out.

Micro-Dynamic Control

What volume automation might not catch is the very quick dynamic changes – loose spikes at the fronts of words. These spikes aren’t heard so much as “volume” but more as an overall quality to the vocal.

The issue with these spikes is two fold – first, they eat away at your headroom pretty quickly– second, they will trigger any compressors you are trying to use for purposes besides micro-dynamic control.

It can be useful to dedicate a compression stage toward pulling back these vocal spikes. Generally a fast attack and release, and a light ratio does the job. The light ratio is to retain the articulation of the word and minimize frequency skewing. The key is to set the threshold low enough to catch as much of the peak as possible while effecting the body of the signal as little as possible. I try to avoid using limiters for this purpose. I like the Empirical Labs Distressor for this (especially for controlling peaks while tracking), as well as digital style compressors such as the Logic or Pro Tools stock compressors or the Waves C1. The attack setting is very important – it’s usually between a number of nano-seconds and two or three milliseconds in the digital world, and on the faster side of things for the analog world (totally varies unit to unit).

Getting a Vocal to Stay Audible Through a Mix

The power of compression is that you can make something louder while not actually raising the peak volume of the signal. This becomes extremely useful for making something cut through a dense mix or to come forward. This is probably where the majority of compression work for rap vocals come in.

Rap is generally an in-your-face, visceral style of music. The kick is physical, the snare is physical, subtlety isn’t really the overall goal. And the vocals are paramount. I’ve mixed a number of rap records where the vocals are lower in the mix, but never have I thought it was a good idea. Generally I want the vocals to be equally as strong as the drums or stronger, and I want them as “forward” as possible. Compression is usually a part of that equation.

Let’s consider some more issues…

Conclusion

Compression is a powerful tool that many people struggle to fully understand, so try to get your hands on one and start experimenting. As always I’ll keep an eye on the comments in case there is anything that needs clearing up. I also encourage you to share your own compression tips!

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals: Compression

March 12, 2012

Tips for Effective Buss Compression

Filed under: Compressors, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:31 pm

Buss compression is certainly not a new concept, however, it is an effective and reliable engineering tool and its basic principles are vital considering you are affecting multiple voices.

When approaching buss compression, there are two essential tools at your fingertips: Attack and Release – these two tools, when properly utilized, will have the ultimate say in the outcome of your efforts.

The attack and release functions of a compressor will tell its detector how to react to signal that passes through. An effective use of attack and release will essentially allow you to make conscious envelope changes to the signal rising above the threshold at the detector. This brings about the main philosophical concept behind compression, which is to shape the signal, rather than merely restrict its dynamic range (dynamic restriction is part of shaping the signal, not the end purpose). The attack and release controls are what really provide the push and pull effects of compression.

With this in mind, I have provided examples of effective and ineffective buss compression, focusing on attack and release settings, for a few simple approaches.

All of the following audio passed through the same compressor with the same settings (beside attack and release) and a ratio of 1.5:1 with an average gain reduction of 4 dB.

To read the full article with sound samples visit:  Buss Compression

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

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

February 4, 2011

Dynamics Processing Meets Rock Guitar: How to Compress a Guitar or Bass

Dynamics processing with studio-oriented processors? Been there, done that. But have you re-visited it lately in a guitar context? Dynamics control for vocals or program material is very different compared to guitar. Much of this is because there are many ways to use dynamics processing for guitar (or bass). So, let’s take a look at the different ways to apply dynamics, with examples of suggested settings.

For an introduction to compression, check out the article “Compressors Demystified.” If you’re already up to speed, let’s give a few basics on how to set up studio processors with guitar (however, note that these same basic techniques work with plug-in software compressors as well as hardware).

The Interface Space

“Stomp box” dynamics processors, while designed specifically for guitar, are more limited than rack-mount studio hardware – but the latter have issue levels with guitar. Interfacing involves one of four approaches:

Use the instrument input. If the processor has an “instrument” input, you’re golden. Plug the guitar directly into the processor, then run it into the mixer, amp modeler, guitar amp (assuming you can adjust the output level to avoid total overload), or whatever. Look for an instrument input impedance above 100kilohms, and preferably above 220kilohms, to avoid dulling high frequencies and reducing level. But too high an impedance (in the 5-10Megohm range) reaches a point of diminishing returns, because now the input may be too sensitive and prone to noise pickup. A 1Megohm impedance is a good compromise setting.

Use a preamp or suitable direct box. Adding a preamp or direct box (assuming it has an appropriately high input impedance) before the processor will preserve the guitar signal’s fidelity and allow for best level matching. If you’re driving a guitar amp, you may be able to use the dynamics processor’s output control to add some extra overdrive, but don’t go overboard (or do, if you like really nasty sounds!).

Insert into your guitar amp’s effects loop. If you want to record with your guitar amp but are using a line-level processor, patch it into the guitar amp’s effects loop. The loop should be able to provide line levels for the send (goes into the processor’s input) and return (comes from the processor’s output).

If you’re using a hardware mixer, insert the dynamics processor into your mixer’s channel inserts. This will also match levels properly, although you’ll still have to figure out how to interface the guitar with the mixer. The choices are the same as above: If the mixer has an instrument input, great. If not, use a preamp, direct box, etc. between the guitar and mixer.

Now let’s take a closer look how to really do it…

Double Your Pleasure

Patching two compressors in series, with both set for small amounts of compression, can give a significant amount of compression but sound less obvious than using a single compressor to give the same amount of compression. The first stage essentially “pre-conditions” the signal so that the second compressor doesn’t have to work so hard.

 

If you have a stereo compressor that can be set to dual mono operation, you can patch the two individual compression channels in series. With plug-ins, you can just insert two in series in a track. The drawback is that unlike standard compression, where you have to adjust only one set of controls, an ˆ la carte approach requires adjusting both sets of compressor controls. While this might seem like a disadvantage, most of the time you’ll set them to similar settings anyway.

Window Shopping

To get an idea of what’s out there in compressor-land, visit a few retailers and manufacturers and you’ll see the choices are huge, ranging from under a hundred dollars to thousands (and thousands!) of dollars. But realistically, for the type of application we’re describing here, you don’t need anything too fancy – it’s not like you’re using the compressor to re-master vintage recordings for audiophile releases. Besides, these days technology is at a level where even fairly inexpensive devices can deliver excellent results.

 

In any event, all the above tips are just guidelines. Experiment with your dynamics processor, and you may find yet another way to exploit these perhaps unglamorous, but extremely useful, devices.

To read the full detailed article see:  How to Compress a Guitar or Bass

December 30, 2010

Compressors: How They Really Work

It’s one of the most used, and most misunderstood, signal processors. While people use it to make a recording “punchier,” it often ends up dulling the sound instead because the controls aren’t set optimally. And it was supposed to go away when the digital age, with its wide dynamic range, appeared.

Yet the compressor is more popular than ever, with more variations on the basic concept than ever before. Let’s look at what’s available, pros and cons of the different types, and applications.

Introduction

Compression was originally invented to shoehorn the dynamics of live music (which can exceed 100 dB) into the restricted dynamic range of radio and TV broadcasts (around 40-50 dB), vinyl (50-60 dB), and tape (40dB to 105 dB, depending on type, speed, and noise reduction used). As shown in Fig. 1, this process lowers only the peaks of signals while leaving lower levels unchanged, then boosts the overall level to bring the signal peaks back up to maximum. (Bringing up the level also brings up any noise as well, but you can’t have everything.)

Fig. 1: The first, black section shows the original audio. The middle, green section shows the same audio after compression; the third, blue section shows the same audio after compression and turning up the output control. Note how softer parts ot the first section have much higher levels in the third section, yet the peak values are the same.

Even though digital media such as the CD have a decent dynamic range, people are accustomed to compressed sound. Compression has been standard practice to help soft signals overcome the ambient noise in typical listening environments; furthermore, analog tape has an inherent, natural compression that engineers have used (consciously or not) for over half a century.

There are other reasons for compression. With digital encoding, higher levels have less distortion than lower levels—the opposite of analog technology. So, when recording into digital systems (tape or hard disk), compression can shift most of the signal to a higher overall average level to maximize resolution.

Compression can create greater apparent loudness (commercials on TV sound so much louder than the programs because they are compressed without mercy). Furthermore, given a choice between two roughly equivalent signal sources, people will often prefer the louder one. And of course, compression can smooth out a sound—from increasing piano sustain to compensating for a singer’s poor mic technique.

Now let’s look at some compressor basics…

Compressor Types

Compressors are available in hardware (usually a rack mount design or for guitarists, a “stomp box”) and as software plug-ins for existing digital audio-based programs. Following is a description of various compressor types.

  • “Old faithful.” Whether rack-mount or software-based, typical features include two channels with gain reduction amount meters that show how much your signal is being compressed, and most of the controls mentioned above.
  • Multiband compressors. These divide the audio spectrum into multiple bands, with each one compressed individually. This allows for a less “effected” sound (for example, low frequencies don’t end up compressing high frequencies), and some models let you compress only the frequency ranges that need to be compressed.
  • Vintage and specialty compressors. Some swear that only the compressor in an SSL console will do the job. Others find the ultimate squeeze to be a big bucks tube compressor. And some guitarists can’t live without their vintage Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer, considered by many to be the finest guitar sustainer ever made. Fact is, all compressors have a distinctive sound, and what might work for one sound source might not work for another. If you don’t have that cool, tube-based compressor from the 50s of which engineers are enamored, don’t lose too much sleep over it: Many software plug-ins emulate vintage gear with an astonishing degree of accuracy.

Whatever kind of audio work you do, there’s a compressor somewhere in your future. Just don’t overcompress—in fact, avoid using compression as a cop out for bad mic technique or dead strings on a guitar. I wouldn’t go as far as those who diss all kinds of compression, but it is an effect that needs to be used subtly to do its best.

To read the full article see:  Compressors Demystified

August 12, 2009

EQ and Compression Techniques Pt.2: Drums

Despite the preponderance of exceptional drum samples and loops on the market, for certain genres of music (notably country and rock) there is no substitute for a great session drummer playing on a well-recorded and mixed drum kit. One thing that samples and loops can’t provide is the great rhythmic instincts an accomplished live player draws upon when responding to a specific song. However, getting a great player (while certainly a significant element) is not the entire story. The appropriate treatment of the drums in a mix with EQ and compression can make the difference between a lifeless, vague sound and an exciting, textured and genuinely rhythmic drum track.

Even though the drummer plays the entire kit as a single instrument, the miking of individual drums and cymbals can make for a very complicated mix scenario. The reason I reference country and rock music specifically has to do with the fact that in these genres the sounds of the individual drums and cymbals are not only singled out by individual microphones placed on each of them but also their sounds are exaggerated to create an even more dramatic effect. Consider, for example, the tom fills in Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” By contrast, jazz drums are often treated as a more cohesive, unified sound and it’s not unusual to use a simple pair of overhead mics to capture the sound of the entire jazz drum kit.

In this article, I’m going to go drum by drum providing EQ and compression settings that will, hopefully, provide you with a jumping off point to getting great drum sounds in your mix. Because of its all-in-one mixing board channel approach, I’ll be using Metric Halo’s Channel Strip plug-in with its EQ, compression and noise-gate to illustrate my comments about various EQ and compression settings.

Now lets take a closer look drum by drum…

Conclusion

While I’ve been painfully specific about EQ, compression and gate settings, it’s important to remember that every mix situation is different. Use all of these settings as a jumping off point and then use your ears to tweak the sounds until you’re happy. Good luck!

To read the full detailed article see:  EQ and Compression Techniques for Drums

June 15, 2009

EQ and Compression Techniques for Vocals and Acoustic Guitar

As an engineer/producer, one of my biggest early challenges was getting my mixes to sound as polished and balanced as the mixes of songs on my favorite albums. Living in Nashville, I knew the problem wasn’t the players (some of whom had even played on those same favorite albums). I also knew that I was happy enough with the sounds I was recording because when I’d solo a particular track, I liked what I heard. The problem, in a nutshell, was getting all the parts of my mix to fit nicely together. What I’ve learned over time and will describe below are a few simple compression and EQ techniques for vocals and the acoustic guitar in your mixes. These techniques, when used properly, will go a long way towards allowing the vocals and acoustic guitars in your mixes to effectively share the sonic space.

Compression

When I first started reading about compressors I was hopelessly lost. The terminology was technical in an almost mean-spirited way and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was being written. To keep things simple, I think of compression as a way of evening out the loud and soft parts of any vocal or instrument so that its behavior is a bit more predictable. In other words, compression brings up the really soft spots and tames the really loud spots so that you’re not constantly reaching for the volume fader on your mixing board (or virtual mixing board on your DAW). In its simplest form, a compressor, whether a hardware unit or a plug-in, will squeeze the audio so that its highs and lows are less pronounced. This allows you to do things like bring down the volume level of the compressed track without fear that its softer parts will get lost, or bring up the volume level without fear that the loud parts will jump out. It might help to think of all compression settings (attack, release, ratio and threshold) as ways to squeeze your audio more or less aggressively. Not enough compression will leave tracks that jump out of a mix at inappropriate times or get lost in the sound of the other instruments; however, too much compression can make a track sound lifeless or uninspired. My rule of thumb is to be less aggressive compressing audio on the way into your DAW (because you’re stuck with whatever you do) and more aggressive with my plug-in compression (because you can always dial it back).

EQ

While a wonderful (and essential) tool, EQ is also quite possibly the quickest way to royally mess up the sound of a mix. Overuse of EQ ranks second only to overuse of reverb as the hallmark of an inexperienced mix engineer. EQ should be used to subtly (or not so subtly) color the sound of the particular track you’re working on so that it relates well to and leaves space for the other tracks in a mix. My experience has been that it’s what you pull out and not what you put in that makes EQ work best. For example, even when you’re looking for a boost in the high frequencies of a track, it’s often more effective to pull a few dB from a lower frequency which, in turn, brightens the sound.

Conclusion
Compression and EQ are two very powerful weapons in your mix arsenal, but as with anything, overuse will do more harm than good. I think back to the words of an engineer whose work I really respect who liked to say “I’ll compress until it sucks and then back it off from there.” In other words, knowing when to say “when” is an equally useful skill. A final thought…as far as signal path is concerned, I tend to place compression after EQ because EQ effectively raises or lowers the volume of the track and I’ve found I get a more effective response from the compressor if I hit it with the EQed audio. I would highly recommend using the above EQ and compression settings not as an ironclad rule but rather as a jumping off point. Every mix is different and your ears will tell you what’s working and what isn’t.

To read the full detailed article see: EQ & Compression Techniques

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

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