AF’s Weblog

April 4, 2012

Tips for Mixing Toward Loudness

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:25 am

To read the full detailed article see: Mixing Toward Loudness

Some people want their music really loud, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If loudness is part of their aesthetic and the audience likes it, then I say let’s go for it. In order to deliver the most musically effective loudness, that goal must have been addressed in the mixing process, but not as directly as you might think.

It’s important to remember that there are mix masters, and then there are replication or download masters. Your project isn’t finished until it has been mastered, so the relative loudness of a mix does not represent the final level of the project. Comparing the loudness of a mix master with a finished commercial CD is not particularly useful.

However, there are a lot of aspects of mixes that directly contribute to the eventual loudness of a finished master. So what should you be listening for while you’re mixing? Here’s an example scenario:

My client has brought me a set of 5 multi-track recordings to mix. The client is very concerned that her project should fit in with the latest release from Artist X as much as possible, including being equally loud.

Here are some things I would be sure to pay attention to while mixing her project:

The Loudest Instrument

What is the loudest instrument in Artist X’s mixes? 

The answer is probably pretty consistent across the whole CD; and I’ll be sure to use a similar approach with my client’s project.

This may not seem like a pivotal factor, but the relative loudness relationships within a mix establish a lot about the eventual absolute volume of the mix (and the project). If one hip hop mix has a lot more vocal content than another, the relative loudness of the two mixes will be confused.

If I’m mixing in a drum-heavy genre, I’ll be careful to reference that primary balance benchmark. If my next project is a vocal-driven style, I’ll simply re-establish my benchmark. In either case, I’ve setup the balance relationships within my mixes so that they can directly compare with other albums in the presumed audience playlist.

Now let’s take a closer look….

Mastering

These types of musically relevant aspects of mix structure will help you create consistent, engaging mixes that fit into a genre in a lot of fundamental ways. The mastering process can then more effectively finish preparing those mixes for their commercial audience, including addressing their market loudness.

To read the full detailed article see: Mixing Toward Loudness

December 27, 2010

DJ-Tech U2 Station MK2 Review

Filed under: DJ — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:25 am

How about mixing MP3 files without a computer? That’s the goal of the DJ-Tech U2 Station MK2…

DJ-Tech’s commitment is to offer affordable products for the masses, as their slogan clearly states: “not only for DJ.” That’s why the manufacturer offers fun products that meet the needs of most people, from beginners to a bit more experienced DJs.

The U2 Station MK2 is the second version of the DJ-Tech U2 Station. The concept of this small mixer is to allow the user to mix digital audio files in MP3 format. Offered at a reasonable price, the device works as a full standalone mixer without any computer support.

The 14.1″ x 9.4″ mixer has a nice, black glossy finish — you can almost see yourself in it, but watch out for finger marks! The control elements have different quality levels: faders and EQ controls are not very smooth, but the backlit switches react very well and feel pleasant under your fingers.

Inside the product’s box you’ll also find a CD with Magix Audio Cleaning (SE). This software only works on a PC (no Mac version) running Windows 2000, XP or Vista (no Seven support). In fact, the software provided with the product is Audio Cleaning 9.02 while the current version is 16.00. I find it a bit awkward to provide such an old version. Nonetheless, this version is enough to convert your CDs into MP3, which is the program’s main purpose. However, Magix’s support reacted very fast and gave me version 16 for free, which I could install on Seven without a hitch. This software will allow you to import all your analog audio sources (vinyls, tapes, etc.), clean them (of noise, hum, etc.) and convert them into MP3 files so you can use them directly with the U2 Station. The unit hosts an internal USB sound card that allows you to connect all sorts of old analog gear to your computer.

Sound Sources

Each channel has four different inputs:

DJ-Tech U2 Station mk2

– Line/phono input (switchable via a small selector on the rear panel of the U2 Station). It’s an excellent idea to provide a facility that allows you to connect analog sound sources to a digital mixer. However, notice that not all functions are available for this input, most notably the BPM counter, which works only with digital audio.

– Two USB ports (A and B ) on the top panel. Note that it is not necessary to connect two USB devices to be able to mix: only one USB device is enough. You can use all songs included in the USB device with both players, fully independent from each other.

Your USB hard drives and keys must be formated in FAT 16 or 32, the only formats supported by the U2 Station. One might have expected an Apple iPhone/iPod connection, like on other DJ-Tech products, but that’s not the case this time around! You got it right, the mixer provides you with two independent MP3 players. They constitute the core of the U2 Station.

Bloody Sunday for My MP4!

The mixer’s main advantage is that it’s a fully standalone concept made possible thanks to the USB port for hard and pen drives with up to 250 GB in capacity. But watch out, there is an important limitation: this mixer can play back only MP3 files! It does support all possible MP3 files from 32 to 320 kb/s bit rates (CBR and VBR) but no other formats like AAC (.m4a), OGG, WAV, etc. All non-supported files will be ignored when you browse the files so they won’t disturb you during your search.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The small U2 Station MKII is a controller you can take with you anywhere. It’s an excellent product. It lacks almost nothing, all essential features are present, except for a button to sync the BPM and beat of the two MP3 players automatically. This feature, as well as AAC compatibility, is a real drawback considering that the product is designed for beginners who mix for their grandma and cousins. Otherwise, this mixer has everything a professional product does and it offers many features you’ll only find on much more expensive mixers or tools that use sophisticated software and require a computer.

Advantages:

  • Mixing from a USB device
  • No need for a computer
  • Possibility to mix real line/phono audio sources
  • Portability
  • Three good quality effects
  • Scratch function with the jog wheel
  • Crossfader (auto start, curve control)
  • Overall finish
  • Sound quality

Disadvantages:

  • Somme controls don’t work smoothly
  • No auto sync for the two MP3 players
  • No AAC file support
  • No iPhone/iPod connection

To read the full detailed article see:  DJ-Tech U2 Station MK2 Review

October 13, 2010

Pioneer DJM-2000 Mixing Console Review

With its 11 rhythm effects, multi-band frequency mix crossfader, RJ45 port to connect CD players, four-channel stereo sound card, and 5.8″ color touchscreen, the new Pioneer DJM2000 mixer is very appealing. And we obviously wanted to find out what it hidden under the hood. Let’s go!

Test Configuration

Pioneer DJM-2000

I put on my prettiest sneakers, grab my good old CDJ-100 CD players (yes, I know, they are not as nice as the CDJ-2000…), a small Shure mic, my MacBook, a pair of headphones, a Sennheiser mic, and a fat RCF sound system to shake the ground under my feet. I am now ready to welcome the new Pioneer jewel… The picture on the box doesn’t look very attractive, but as soon as you open the box, you know that you have a serious mixer in your hands: 18.7 lbs of technology in a rather big housing (15.7″ x 16.9″). The package also includes 28 pages of operating instructions (the bare minimum, considering the device), a CD-ROM with PC and Mac drivers for the sound card, the power cable, a USB cable, and four rather unusual RJ45 Cat5e cables for DJ equipment. We will come back to this later…

It doesn’t include any software, but on Pioneer’s website you can download Rekordbox for free — like I did. Installation was a breeze with my Mac Book Pro but the software was quite useless for this review: it cannot read more than one channel simultaneously and it is quite limited if you have no CDJ-2000/900.

The Concept

Pioneer DJM-2000

Pioneer tried to pack as many technological innovations as possible into this new high-grade mixer. Some of them have been inherited from other products. With this mixer, Pioneer successfully implemented into a hardware product some unique features that you usually find only in computer software. The mixer is very well manufactured. It has a very nice and professional finish, pursuing the spirit of previous Pioneer products, especially through the classic level meters with peak indicators. Almost every button is backlit, some of them flash to show their status while others have different lighting intensity. We just miss the possibility to adjust their brightness more precisely.

You obviously have a headphones output to monitor all channels and effects, a mic input with a two-band EQ and talk-over (that attenuates the level of the master signal when the mic level increases), and a master zone with stereo meter that allows you to adjust the output volume and balance. We won’t spend much time describing these features since they are quite standard on mixers in this range.

Instead, we’ll focus on the four channels and their multi-inputs, the great crossfaders, numerous effects, and the sound card that make this mixer one of the most versatile in its category.

Channels

The four channels are placed to the sides of the center LCD. You can use the outer channels (1 & 4) to connect your turntables and the inner channels (2 & 3) for your favorite analog players. Each channel features an S/PDIF input and another digital input through the internal USB sound card.

Each channel has exactly the same features:

  • A trim control to adjust the input level
  • An almost standard three-band EQ with an “isolator” mode, which allows you to extend the range of the rotary controls to be able to cut the respective frequency band up to -40 dB instead of -26 dB. Thus, if you turn all three controls fully counterclockwise, you won’t hear anything anymore.
  • A “filter” control that allows you to adjust the level of the INST FX for the channel.
  • A CUE button dedicated to the pre-listen function in your headphones.
  • A fader to adjust the channel volume. You can choose the fader curve to be either linear or logarithmic. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem possible to change the faders, in spite of the three visible screws (there is no information about this in the operating instructions).
  • A convenient selector that allows you to freely assign the channel to one side of the crossfader (see crossfaders section below).
  • A 15-segment level meter with peak detection.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Let’s be clear: this is a great piece of gear! Well thought-out, nicely finished and with a great sound, it offers countless possibilities to allow the most demanding DJ’s to have endless fun. This definitively high-grade mixer was conceived by Pioneer to work with several CDJ-2000 or CDJ-900. If you want to get the most out of it, you’ll have to buy them as well.

And this results in the biggest problem for most of us: the basic setup (DJM-2000 + two CDJ-900) would amount to about $5,100… it’s hardly what you’d call cheap! With this product, Pioneer targets night clubs with big budgets who want to offer the best to their DJ’s. The latter will have the possibility to prepare their sets before performing, and to come to the club with only a CD or a USB key — no need for a computer.

Advantages:

  • Finish and sturdiness
  • Sound quality
  • Number of ins/outs
  • Integrated eight-output sound card (four stereo outs)
  • Seven crossfaders per frequency band via touchscreen
  • Real-time, BPM-synced effects and sidechain remix.

Drawbacks:

  • Price (about $2,500)
  • BPM counter works too slowly and not precisely enough
  • Only one BPM counter
  • Not Traktor ready

To read the full detailed article see: Pioneer DJM-2000 Review

May 18, 2010

7 Things You Should Never Do While Mixing Live Sound

Filed under: Live Sound, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:40 am

Top 7 tips to learn and live by when you are behind the mixing console at a live show.

7. Just because you’ve been doing something “this way for 20 years” doesn’t make it the right way or even a good way.

True, maybe no one is complaining, and you’re getting hired plenty, so who’s the real expert here?  Hopefully we can all stand to learn new things and do a better job.  It’s my experience that many of us are still a bit shy on some of the fundamentals. Know your signal flow? How about proper gain structure? The theory of formants and how they affect your mix?

Maybe you can answer “yes” to the first two, but how about that last one? Ever wonder how some shows sound terrific, but you can’t put your finger on why that is? There’s always a “why,” and we can all benefit from learning the “what” behind the “why” more often.


6. Maybe your mix does sound good – I’m big enough to admit it. Or at least, at the console it sounds good.

But do you walk around the venue and listen to the system from various seating areas? If not, you might be fooling yourself. It’s true that measurement tools can help us a great deal in setting up, tweaking and tuning these fabulous systems at our disposal today. Yet no matter how great the tool, it still can’t tell the difference between good and bad sound. Only you can do that.

I’m not suggesting leaving the console mid-show to go out to the highest seating area in the arena. However, before the show starts, you should have a good handle on coverage and how it sounds out in the house. Your audience certainly will.

A couple of summers ago, I took my daughter to see Rush at the Journal Pavilion outside of Albuquerque. It really struck me that even from the lawn, the sound was fantastic. Hats off to whomever was mixing that show.


FOH Beck tour

5. Speaking of tools, we have tons of gadgets that have meters, blinking lights, tri-colored LEDs, plasma displays and all kind of ways to measure, indicate and extrapolate the audio information into visual data.

Do you mix with your eyes? Sure it’s great to have a clip light, since most of us have trouble hearing when our system is getting pushed over 5 percent THD.  But it’s a mistake to think that just because the meters tell us everything is O.K. that the mix sounds good.

Want to know how much compression to add to the vocals? Use the meters to get in the ballpark, but then listen to the result and determine if it might need just a skosh more or less.

It starts with reading spec sheets, doesn’t it? How many times have you decided on a piece of gear based on the technical specifications? I’m not saying that’s bad, necessarily. The specs can help us a great deal. But if we haven’t listened to that piece of gear, in context, there’s no way to know how it will really behave when we need it.

To read the rest of the article please visit Live Sound Mixing

December 24, 2009

SSL X-Desk: Art for All?

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:29 pm

SSL X-Desk Review

2009 was a year of changes and Solid State Logic got it perfectly. More than ever, the British manufacturer wanted to perpetuate its leading position in the professional analog mixer market launching a new product, the most refined of all: the X-Desk, a compact, 16-channel, analog line mixer developed for project studios. This human-sized mixer aroused our curiosity…

Even though acronyms have changed a lot with the advent of the internet, SSL (simply think “Oxford, England”…) still remains a synonym for professional quality to any audio enthusiast – both for sound and technical aspects. After many years of having become one of the indispensable products in professional studios all over the world, the British manufacturer started to show interest in modular solutions with its X-Rack Series, allowing (almost) anybody to enjoy their legendary sound if they had the need and the budget. In 2008 they presented the Matrix, which confirmed the manufacturer’s will to win new clients over with a new analog mixer concept. Equipped with 16 inline channels, 40 inputs with digital routing and DAW control, it combines the best of both the “out-of-the-box” and the “in-the-box” worlds. Now, SSL moves even further in that direction with the X-Desk. No more jam-packed mixers: 16 line input channels, no mic preamps nor EQ, but enough mixing and connection possibilities.

SSL X-DeskAt first sight, the mixer’s extremely compact size (17.1″ x 12.2″ x 4.7″) will surprise you, considering it’s an SSL, even if the Matrix had already started with the trend… You can now have the Oxford sound directly in your home studio, even if it’s more a home than a studio – like in this review!

Nevertheless, just look at the mixer and you’ll know it’s a real SSL. First of all, you’ll notice the typical sturdy manufacturing. Reliable production, clear silkscreen and a well thought-out design that makes the workflow easier. The mixer has the same 25-pin D-Sub connectors you’ll find on most professional products. Moreover, all ten D-Sub sockets on the rear panel are recessed, ensuring an easy integration of the X-Desk in your production environment. No connector will be outwardly exposed, therefore reducing the space needed to set up the mixer. We all know that connectors can take up a lot of space and SSL dealt with that issue properly.

The small mixer looks nice and it promises a lot of flexibility and ease of use. But what about the technology inside?  Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

SSL struck a decisive blow with the X-Desk by offering an expandable mixer that focuses on the real needs of today’s professional music production. This compact device concentrates all the brand’s know-how and philosophy to provide all the essentials for quality mixing. It surely doesn’t have anything to envy its competitors – does it have any competitors, considering its price?

SSL fans will enjoy the typical SSL sound energy. For all the rest who always wanted to work with SSL products, the X-Desk is the best opportunity to realize their dream at an affordable price.

Advantages:

  • Clean but biting SSL SuperAnalogue sound in a compact mixer
  • SSL typical versatility and philosophy
  • Routing, summing and monitoring possibilities worthy of a large mixer
  • Precise functions that make the X-Desk a fully reliable mixer
  • Cleverly designed stereo Cue bus providing 16 summing channels
  • Expandability that allows you to link up to eight X-Desks and use all outboard combinations you wish
  • What a price!

Drawbacks:

  • Talkback sound
  • CUE ST level control without push-push switch (like on the 4000!) to cut/activate the signal without loosing the level setting
  • Cables must be bought separately…
  • No “X-Desk XPander” version without monitor and FX send/return functions to optimize X-Link chaining…

To read the full detailed review see:  SSL X-Desk Review

October 30, 2009

Mackie Onyx 820i Review

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:29 am

It’s been a while since the first Onyx mixers with the FireWire option first came out, and now Mackie carries on with the Onyx 820i, which comes with Pro Tools M-Powered. Hmm…so what does M-Audio think about that?

Mackie Onyx 820iAt AudioFanzine, we were very surprised when we first received the Onyx 820i. We have not heard anything about a new Mackie analog mixer series sold with ProTools M-Powered, and there was also no information about it to be found on the web! The unit comes with “universal” drivers compatible with DigiDesign’s sequencer. As we write this review, we still don’t know if this is the result of a cooperation between ProTools and Mackie or if the manufacturer just took the liberty to use the software. What’s more, even though the pack we received included the Onyx and Pro Tools M-Powered, the latter is not an integral part of the product that you will find in stores. So let’s focus on the mixer then…

Unpacking

We like the overall design of the mixer, and the aluminum chassis gives it a sturdy and classy look, which is a very good point considering it’s an entry-level mixer. The plastic knobs–from the solo and mute buttons to the EQ controls–will be familiar to all Mackie users. The mixer’s compact dimensions (14.2″ x 9″ x 3.8″) and weight (9.7 lb.) make the mixer seem sturdy. We’ll have to see if this holds true under real-life conditions. It also has four rubber feet on the bottom side so it’s a mixer that will surely stay in place.

Now, let’s have a closer look at the technical features of the Onyx…

Conclusion

Mackie did an amazing job breaking the $500 price barrier with this compact analog mixer with three mic preamps, effective EQs and an 8 in/2 out FireWire interface. The quality design and manufacturing of this small Onyx make it a pleasant surprise. Mackie learned from previous mistakes and the 820i proves to be very comprehensive, as well as a good solution for live and studio musicians. The fact that it is ProTools compatible is already the focus of heated discussions because it seems Mackie might have tampered with DigiDesign’s system. Nonetheless, you’ll still have to pay an extra $250 for the sequencer, which raises the price to $750. It’s not that expensive but it makes us wonder why instead of bundling their highly recommended Tracktion software, Mackie encourages us to buy a competitor’s software…

Advantages:

  • Quality/performance/price ratio
  • Manufacturing quality
  • Effective Perkins EQ
  • Comprehensive connections
  • Pre or post-EQ FireWire

Drawbacks:

  • Preamps too limited for some applications
  • Only two computer output channel
  • Pro Tools compatibility smells like hacking…
  • Pro Tools M-Powered not included ($250 extra)…

To read the full detailed article see:  Mackie Onyx 820i Review

September 2, 2009

Behringer – DJX-750 DJ Mixer

Filed under: DJ, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:36 am

Behringer presents the DJX-750 DJ Mixer which features the capability of altering FX parameters in real time.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

September 1, 2009

Behringer – PMP860M & PMP980S Mixers

Behringer presents the PMP860M & PMP980S Box powered mixers, both with 900-Watt peak power and inbuilt FX processors.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

August 28, 2009

Behringer – Xenyx XL Series Mixers

Behringer presents their Xenyx XL series live mixers.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

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

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