Review: Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection

It seems like every few weeks there some new piece of audio software that claims to make your music bigger, louder, deeper, and more badass in every way. Every new plugin is announced as a total game changer.

Like that means something.

The Virtual Console Collection

Steven Slate’s Virtual Console Collection is one of those so called game changing plugins. There was SO MUCH HYPE about this product that I was completely put off by the idea of it and tried to ignore it for a while.

VCC is a plugin that claims to make your mixes sound more analog and to make your DAW react exactly like an analog console. Not only that, but you get a choice of several consoles that you can use in any combination.
Say you wanted your guitars mixed on an SSL, drums on a vintage Neve, bass on a vintage RCA tube console, everything else through a Trident console and finally all those tracks summed through  an API. Impossible in real life, but accomplished in a minute with VCC. Continue reading Review: Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection

Guest Post: How to Use Compressors

This guest post comes from Barry Gardner, mastering engineer at SafeandSound online mastering services

How to Use Compressors

One of the most common tools that will be found in music production studios is an audio compressor. I will initially make distinction between dynamic range compressors and for example an MP3 compressor, here we are dealing with the control of audio dynamics not lossy audio formats. Compressors have been used since the 1950’s initially in radio broadcasting and also in the creation of vinyl records. An audio compressor is a device which could be described in it’s simplest form as an automatic level dependent fader. A compressor has a number of uses in a music mix and we will explain what those uses are and the basic controls. Audio compressors can be used for both practical and creative purposes. Practically a compressor can even out the loud and soft levels within a piece of audio, creatively we can affect the sound tonally and alter the transients (peaks) within the audio. You will find both analog and digital audio compressors and the controls found on them are largely the same so either will be suitable for practicing the controls.
Compressors have a number of controls which may initially be confusing for a new user. We will outline and discuss each control. It can be useful to have a plugin instance open when you go through each control. Please note not all audio compressors will have all controls.

  • Threshold – The threshold on a compressor determines the signal level at which the onset of compression begins.
  • Ratio – The ratio relates to the amount of compression that is applied once the threshold has been exceeded. The higher the ratio the more more compression. For example a ratio of 5:1 means if the threshold is exceeded by 5dB the output will rise by only 1dB
  • Attack – This time constant determines how quickly the compression will occur at onset and relates to the transient peaks in the audio. Often stated in milliseconds. Occasionally scaled 1-10.
  • Release – This time constant determines how quickly the compression action will return to a state of no compression. Often stated in milliseconds. Sometimes scaled 1-10.
  • Make up gain – Compression reduces overall level of a piece of audio by bringing down the level of the peaks, however by using the make up gain (normally adding the same amount as indicated on the gain reduction meter) you can bring up the overall perceived volume. Continue reading Guest Post: How to Use Compressors

Guest Post: De-Essing Approaches

This post was sent in by Joe Clar at JoeClarMusic.com. I’ve expanded on it to include a few additional resources. These additions are identified in italics. The original post can be found here.

De-Essing Approaches

I was recently working on a song and the sibilance was just a little too much for me. Like anything in audio there several ways of accomplishing the same task and different people will have different opinions but these are a few ways that I found to be effective.

1. Automate Each and Every Sibilance (The Manual Approach)

There’s a thread with this in Gearslutz (link) that offers a very good solution. It is basically to put a trim plug in and then automate the volume of the trim plug-in on each sibilance. This way is also completely free and similar to compressing by riding a volume fader.

Advantages– No artifacts, Cost-effective, You can choose how much you want to decrease each sibilance,  Doesn’t interfere with volume automation for the track and you can bypass the plug-in or go back and tweak if needed.
Disadvantages- Can be time consuming if there are lots of background vocal tracks or doublings, Can’t be saved as a setting that can be applied to future or similar vocal tracks.

Photo from Gregory Scott’s Gearslutz post

I put this on a trim plug so it’s separate from volume automation, makes it much easier to edit as the mix progresses.

If you slide your first two nodes to the right, you can let as much or as little transient thru as you’d like. If you add nodes, you can put the transient at one level and the ess at another.

Each sibilant (ess or tzz or chhh or fff) is tuned by ear, so the amount of control is unparalleled. Once you get up to speed, you can do a whole track in about 5 minutes. Sibilants are very easy to spot visually, they’re much denser and faster than anything else on the track.”

Gregory Scott – ubk

A variation of this tip is to use clip gain/item volume or other pre-FX gain adjustment in your DAW to turn down the volume of the offending areas.
I recently set up an action in REAPER to speed up this process [split selected area, turn item gain down 2dB]  I have the action assigned to a convenient keyboard shortcut. I have another to boost and another to mute. I’m using these a ton for de-essing, breath reduction, leveling vocal and dialog dynamics, and similar tasks on instrument tracks.

Recently I was mixing a song called Mother Earth, every time the word “Earth” was sung the TH sound was held too long. No one makes a De-Ether so I knew  had to figure out a manual method. I found the best way to was to reduce the TH section of the waveform by 2dB and time compress it by about 60%.

2. Use a De-Esser Plug-in (The Automatic Approach)

When a De-Esser plug-in is set correctly it can be fast and easy. However it usually takes a little time to find the problem frequency, then to set the threshold so it doesn’t get triggered by other material, and then to have it work for many different sections of the track. There’s quite a bit to take into account and you will most likely need to automate some of the parameters of the De-Esser to get it right. There are some videos on Pensado’s Place that go over this in the Into The Lair Section. Pensado’s Place is definitely a show worth checking out, he is very knowledgeable, a Grammy Award winning mixer and a genuinely nice guy sharing what he has learned working in music.

Fab Dupont has a great video demonstrating the how-to and differences between 6 popular de-essers.

One method I found works for me when using a De-Esser plug-in is to set the frequency band to be fairly wide and to use a shelf shape instead of just notching out a narrow frequency band. Usually the offending frequencies fall between about 4k to 12k but I’ve gotten good results using a hi-shelf shape at 6k and about 6db of gain reduction. When I was using a narrow band it wasn’t really taking out all of the harshness that I wanted. I also have read using multiple narrow bands but I would most likely use the manual method before resorting to this.

Advantages: Once set correctly it can save you from having to automate each sibilance, It can take out just the upper frequencies and leave the un-offending frequencies in tact, Can be saved as a preset so if you recorded many tracks with the same singer, the same microphone in the same studio then it should be pretty close for each vocal track, The attack and release times can be set on some De-Essers.
Disadvatages: Can sometimes need automation to get right, If the De-Esser is triggered too much it can give the singer a lysp.

Note: De-Essing can also be thought of as frequency dependent side-chain compression. A multiband compressor has many similarities of a standard De-Esser plug-in and is a good way to visualize what a De-Esser is doing.

Conclusion:
There isn’t really one way that will work for every singer in every song so experimentation is required to find out what’s best for that particular situation.

Review: IK Multimedia T-RackS Deluxe

Introduction
T-RackS 3 is a suite of high-quality digital and analog-modelled VST/AU/RTAS Dynamics and EQ processors, for mixing and mastering. T-RackS can also be used outside of your DAW as a standalone mastering application. Version 3.5.1 is the latest at the time of this review.
T-RackS Standard comes with the 4 ‘classic’ processors and metering suite as individual plugins also available within the T-Racks Shell or standalone.
T-Racks Deluxe has all the same functionality but adds a few more processors for a total of 9 including two analog modelled devices, the Fairchild Limiter and Pultec Tube Equalizer.
Each of the processors are also available for $99 each. The two newest additions to the T-RackS family – Black 76 Limiting Amplifier (modelled after Urei 1176), and White 2A Leveling Amplifier (Modelled after Urei LA2A Tube compressor/limiter), are only available as add-on purchases.
The decision to offer the individual processors was based on user feedback and common use. When T-RackS 3 was first released it was considered a mastering plugin, but users started liking the effects for mixing as well. Splitting up the system outside of the T-RackS Shell has made things much more convenient. Continue reading Review: IK Multimedia T-RackS Deluxe

IK Multimedia T-RackS 3 Deluxe Double Deal (limited time offer)

T-RackS 3 Deluxe Double DealThis month (Feb 2012) IK Multimedia is running a special 60% off on T-RackS 3 Deluxe. It’s just $199 in the online store or from your favorite retailer. [update – $99 upgrade offer for T-RackS 3 Standard users]
Buy and register Deluxe before Feb 29th and you qualify for the group buy to get a T-RackS 3 Single Black 76 or a T-RackS 3 Single White 2A for FREE.

Here’s how it works:
1. Buy T-RackS 3 Deluxe for only $199.99/€149.99* on our online store or your preferred music retailer.
2. As soon as 2,000 registrations are received, you will also be given a FREE T-Racks 3 Single title to choose from Black 76 and White 2A.

Make sure to spread the word so everyone gets a better deal! Building your own mixing and mastering studio has never been easier, but hurry, this promotion ends February 29th, 2012.

Check the Group Buy Counter here.

* All prices exclude taxes.

Continue reading IK Multimedia T-RackS 3 Deluxe Double Deal (limited time offer)

3 Mid-Side Processing Tricks

In this article I’ll explain how I use Mid-Side processing on stereo sources for practical or creative effects.

Mid-Side?
Two channels of audio can be combined in a way that gives us control over what is the same in each signal, the middle, and what is different, the sides. The middle is where the kick drum, snare, bass, vocals and a lot of other instruments are, the sides have any hard-panned instruments and spatial effects like reverb. It can be pretty interesting to listen to music like this, there can be a lot hidden in the side channel.

MS is also a stereo microphone technique using a cardioid microphone facing the source and a bidirectional mic turned 90 degrees away just picking up ambience. In this situation the two signals would need to be decoded into stereo. The side mic signal is duplicated, polarity inverted and the two side signals are then panned hard left and right. This is not a true stereo mic technique but can sound very nice. The balance of mid and side signals can be adjusted as needed by changing the level of the 3 tracks.

You can manually encode and decode stereo files to MS and use mono plugins to process mid or side individually. A lot more plugins have an MS mode now. Many of the modules in the T-Racks suite allow mid side processing, as does Ozone, a few compressors and equalizers and a distortion also come to mind.

You can do this for subtle or crazy effects, its a fun way to experiment with plugins and get some unique sounds.

Loud and wide
For a recent mastering job I used a Fairchild compressor plugin in MS mode (Lat/Vert) to compress the middle and increase the level of the sides. I did this in parallel so I could blend the effect in easily. I was also using this to get a lot of extra loudness. You can call this parallel MS Compression.
Compare the master without the parallel MS compression, then with, then the parallel compression soloed.
[audio:http://audiogeekzine.com/wp-content/uploads/mid_side/TS_master_A.mp3|titles=Master A (no MS)]
[audio:http://audiogeekzine.com/wp-content/uploads/mid_side/TS_master_B.mp3|titles=Master B (with effect)]
[audio:http://audiogeekzine.com/wp-content/uploads/mid_side/TS_master_C.mp3|titles=Master C (effect soloed)]

Parallel Mid-Side Compression with Fairchild

No more messy verb
I had someone ask about clearing up the middle of a mix when using a lot of reverb. Using Mid-Side Compression on the reverb return can work well. Compress the middle more than the sides and increase the side volume if you want more width.
Here is an example of that on some drums. The drums are Steven Slate playing in KONTAKT. The whole kit is sent into Valhalla Room. With the Fairchild after the reverb I’m lowering the middle by 2dB and raising the sides by 2.

Here you can listen to this effect with lots of reverb on the drums.
[audio:http://audiogeekzine.com/wp-content/uploads/mid_side/drums_wet.mp3|titles=Drums Wet (no MS)]
An now with MS compression on just the reverb bus.
[audio:http://audiogeekzine.com/wp-content/uploads/mid_side/drums_wet_MS.mp3|titles=Drums Wet (MS compressed verb)]
There is NO compression on the drums themselves, I’m only compressing the reverb return and widening it.

Wacky effects
Here is an example of what you can do with a stereo loop and any plugin. This is a little more complicated, and only works if there are hard panned sounds. The loop I started out with had a hihat that wasn’t panned very hard, I copied it to a new track, filtered out all the lows, boosted some highs and then panned it hard left. I recorded the combined original and panned track to a new file.
Here is what I’m starting out with
[audio:http://audiogeekzine.com/wp-content/uploads/mid_side/Loop-dry.mp3|titles=Loop Dry (no MS)]

Now that I had something on the sides I could mess around with Mid Side Processing.
The first thing you have to do is convert Left – Right to Mid and side. I use the free +matrix MS decoder from SoundHack.com. After that I used a delay plugin to add some filtered echoes just to the middle by disabling the right side input.
In the next insert I used a distortion on just the right side. This brought out a lot more of the reverb than was heard in the original loop. Lastly,  second MS decoder was used to bring it back to stereo.

Soundhack +matrix MS encoder/decoder

Here is how the loop sounds now with delay in the middle and distortion on the sides.
[audio:http://audiogeekzine.com/wp-content/uploads/mid_side/Loop-MS.mp3|titles=Loop with MS effects]

Pretty cool right!? I hope you have found these tricks useful.

Guest Post: The 24 Bit Advantage

This guest post comes from Barry Gardner, mastering engineer at SafeandSound online mastering

The 24 bit advantage

These days almost all digital audio workstations have the option to record and operate at 24 bit resolution. In fact it is highly likely that the vast majority of musicians and engineers are already setting their DAW’s up to work at 24 bit. 24 has a number of advantages over operating at 16 bit. I am going to explain a very important advantage which may not be as obvious. It relates to mixing reference levels on your stereo master output bus. Firstly we have to look at record levels because this is where the initial advantages occur. When you record at 24 bit resolution you have a much greater theoretical dynamic range. This means that the noise floor of the recording in the digital realm is much lower than recording at 16 bit. It is theoretically 48 dB lower than at 16 bit. So as a consequence there is no need to record anywhere as hot as when using 16 bit. In fact, a suggested recording level for 24 bit would be to have an average signal level of -18dBFS. You could even have peak signals at this level without detriment to audio fidelity. With peaks at -18dBFS at 24 bit your noise floor is still theoretically 30dB better than that at 16bit. An additional bonus effect is that to obtain peak levels of -18dBFS your mic preamps, compressors and mixer channels will be operating at a lower electrical level which means a cleaner and clearer recording.
Continue reading Guest Post: The 24 Bit Advantage