Monthly Archives: February 2017
Monthly Archives: February 2017
About 3 years ago I posted about my top 10 compressors, but things have changed a lot since then, so I thought it was time to post an updated list. Many of the entries haven’t changed, but a few have (especially on the software side).
This list is a combination of hardware and software, since most of us live in a DAW world these days. Also, the ranking is somewhat arbitrary based on my personal usage. Okay, here we go.
1. Universal Audio 1176: I don’t care which version you use, the 1176 is about as close to a desert island compressor as you’ll get due to its versatility. I like to use it on kick, snare, guitars, bass, vocals – just about anything. It can be aggressive or smooth sounding, but nothing pulls an instrument out of a mix in the same way.
2. Teletronix/Universal Audio LA-2A: Once again, I don’t care which version of the hardware or software you use, the LA-2A has a sound and feel all its own. It can work pretty well on most instruments, but it stands out on vocals, and is dead easy to use. I rarely use a lot, as I like the sound of 2 to 3 dB of gain reduction in most situations.
3. Universal Audio LA-3: Perhaps the ultimate electric guitar compressor, I’ve used it successfully on piano and keyboards as well. Nothing works quite the same with electric guitars in a mix.
4. UAD Precision Limiter: This is a plug that I use on every mix. It doesn’t really try to emulate anything else and it doesn’t have to. It can sit there and be very transparent while putting an absolute ceiling on the peaks of a mix (the way I like to use it), or you can set it to be really aggressive and squeeze every last drop of dynamics from the mix, if that’s what you’re looking for.
5. PSP Vintage Warmer: I don’t know what it is but the Vintage Warmer makes a mix sound better just by being in the signal path. I hardly ever adjust it much, but it always seems to pull the mix together. I like to use it as the first thing on my stereo buss and feed it into an SSL buss compressor, then the Precision Limiter.
6. SSL Buss Compressor: This is the sound that made so many pop and rock records in the 80s and 90s, and it still works great in those genres. I once worked in a studio that had the buss compressor on their 9k labeled as “The Good Button.” Why? Because no matter how your mix sounded, once the SSL buss compressor was engaged, it sounded better.
7. JST Finality: Joey Sturgis is a clever guy and his Finality is a great example of a new take on a classic design (the 1176). The Finality sounds great on drums and bass, doesn’t cost much and doesn’t take up too many system resources. Very cool.
8. dbx 160: I just love the 160s; any of them. For a punchy drum sound, you can’t beat the hardware 160X’s (or even the A model). In software, the UAD 160 sounds great. My favorite for aggressive kick and snare, but it will pull a piano or acoustic guitar up front as well.
9. Fairchild 660/670: When it comes to buss compression, the Fairchild 670 stands is king of the hill for many kinds of music (especially retro or acoustic). It just adds a glue and warmth that you have trouble getting any other way. Just a little bit (a couple of dB) seems to work a lot better than a whole lot. The 660 is the mono version of the more widely known 670, and was the sound you heard on many of The Beatle records (Ringo’s drums, for instance).
10. Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor: Few modern compressors have caught on so widely as the Distressor, and that’s because there are few that are as versatile. I like to track with it on vocals to keep the peaks under control, but there are few compressors that are as effective on room mics, especially when it’s set to “Nuke.” I’m so happy that there’s now a plugin version as well.
Honorable Mention. Pro Tools Native Digirack Compressor/Limiter: I personally think this is one of the most versatile compressors that you can find. It can sound transparent and it can sound aggressive, and since it doesn’t take up much in the way of systems resources, you can use a lot of them in a big mix. Don’t overlook it.
Once again, my top 10 compressors are what I always use, so this is a clearly personal opinion. There’s lots of great compressor out there (especially in software), but I’ve come to rely on these units because I know what they’ll do in most situations.
What are your favorites?
When it comes to EQing, there are certain frequencies that seem predominant for every instrument. Many call them the magic frequencies, because they do tend to work most of the time. Here’s a chart of those frequencies from the latest edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook.
Remember that using the magic frequencies might make an instrument or voice sound dynamite on its own when soloed, but then it might not fit in the mix properly. That’s why it’s best to listen against other instruments when adding or subtracting EQ. Also remember than every song is different because the players, arrangement, recording environment, players and feel is different, which will greatly influence your EQ decisions.
|Bass guitar||Bottom at 50 to 80Hz, attack at 700Hz, snap at 2.5kHz|
|Kick drum||Bottom at 80 to 100Hz, hollowness at 400Hz, point at 3k to 5kHz|
|Snare||Fatness at 120 to 240Hz, point at 900Hz, crispness at 5kHz, snap at 10kHz|
|Rack Toms||Fullness at 240 to 500Hz, attack at 5 to 7kHz|
|Floor Toms||Fullness at 80Hz, attack at 5kHz|
|Hi-hat and cymbals||Clang at 200Hz, sparkle at 8k to 10kHz|
|Electric guitar||Fullness at 240 to 500Hz, presence at 1.5 to 2.5kHz, attenuate at 1kHz for 4 × 12 cabinet sound|
|Acoustic guitar||Fullness at 80Hz, body at 240Hz, presence at 2k to 5kHz|
|Organ||Fullness at 80Hz, body at 240Hz, presence at 2 to 5kHz|
|Piano||Fullness at 80Hz, presence at 3k to 5kHz, honky tonk at 2.5kHz|
|Horns||Fullness at 120Hz, piercing at 5kHz|
|Voice||Fullness at 120Hz, boomy at 240Hz, presence at 5kHz, sibilance at 4k to 7kHz, air at 10k to 15kHz|
|Strings||Fullness at 240Hz, scratchy at 7k to 10kHz|
|Conga||Ring at 200Hz, slap at 5kHz|
David Bock is the founder of Soundelux Microphones and Bock Audio and there are few people as obsessed or knowledgeable about microphones as he is.
His mics exude quality, not only in the way they sound but in the build quality. Put one up against a cheap Chinese clone and it becomes obvious very quickly.
Every time I speak with him I learn something new, and you will too, as we get into a deep discussion about new versus NOS tubes, the peak years of microphone design, and how Neumann’s flat in 1960 is different from the flat frequency response of today.
In the intro I’ll look at why many artists are complaining about the Grammy’s not caring enough about a young audience, and the 50th anniversary of both SIR and Clair Brothers.
We’ve been hearing about vinyl record manufacturing coming into the future for some time, and here’s another example. Some Canadian design engineers who usually put their R&D talents into things like MRI machines went to work on the vinyl record press. They made some huge improvements and came up with the Warm Tone vinyl record press.
What’s cool about the Warm Tone press is that so many pain points of the record making process are improved, not just one. Everything from the way the vinyl puck (the piece of plastic before it becomes a record) is warmed and formed to the way the finished record is picked up off the press has been improved. As a result, you now have a high-tech device that’s much more efficient than anything that’s come before.
You always hear that word “efficient” thrown about, but in this case it’s a huge improvement that can end up saving the customer (you, the artist) money.
The typical old-school record press has a 30 to 40% failure rate, meaning that for every 1,000 records pressed, 300 to 400 are bad and must be recycled thanks to everything from operator error or mechanical failure. The Warm Tone is down near 1%!
It’s faster too, spitting out 3 records per minute versus less than 2 from the old system.
All this from a machine that’s iOS operated by a single technician for every 4 presses, as compared to the normal one technician for every press.
The bottom line is that every though each press costs $195,000, it should actually bring the cost of making a record down, and speed up the manufacturing as well. If you’re suffering from a long wait time for your vinyl album to be pressed (as long as 4 months in some cases), then hopefully that wait time can chopped down to something bearable soon.
How many times has it happened where you have a great mix going, but it just needs something a little extra to bring it all together? Of course, there are now a lot of plugins available to add some “glue” to your mix, but they usually bring just one sound to the party. The Black Box Analog Design HG-2 from Plugin Alliance is different in that it’s one of the most versatile plugins mix buss plugins of its type on the market.
Like the hardware version of the HG-2 that it’s modeled after, the Black Box Analog Design HG-2 plugin brings a wide range of harmonics to a mix, thanks to the careful emulation of the 6U8A pentodes and 12AX7 triodes found in the original model. There are separate gain controls for both the pentode and triode emulations so you can dial a blend between both. You can then adjust the Density control to drive both tubes harder without changing their relative balance or the plugin’s output level in order to get more girth and mass.
The Calibration menu emulates the internal trim adjustment in the original hardware unit by modifying the HG-2’s high-frequency response to produce Dark, Normal or Bright coloration. Then there’s the Air knob, which lets you add some extra 10kHz+ to open up the mix. The HG-2 also has a saturation circuit to add either tube sheen or blistering overdrive distortion to just low or high frequencies or across the entire frequency spectrum. There’s a lot that this plug can do, and it’s certainly a lot more than meets the eye.
The Black Box Analog Design HG-2 retails for $249 but it’s currently on sale for $149. There’s a 14 day free trial available. Check out the video for more info, or go right to the dedicated page on the Plugin Alliance site.
Toto is a band of musician’s musicians, with a precision about their work that’s almost unrivaled. Of course that comes from years of top studio work before the band formed, something that can clearly be heard in Steve Lukather’s isolated guitar part on their hit “Rosanna.” Here’s what to listen for.
1. The precision of the playing here is as good as it gets. On time, perfect tempo, and a groove all built into the tracks.
2. The guitar has a short delay (I’d say around 50ms) that’s panned to the right for a great wide stereo effect. You’ll also hear a chorus, longer delays and some different reverbs as well as the song goes from section to section.
3. Listen to how often the guitar sound changes as well. It’s differently in just about every single section of the song.
4. The middle solo 3:15 is still in stereo but it’s very narrow compared to the rest of the song.
5. Check out the solo on the outro. Pure Luke!
European private equity group Astorg announced the purchase of Audiotonix, the parent company of Allen & Heath, Calrec, Digico and Digigrid, from investor group Epris. The purchase price was reportedly $254 million. Epris (formerly known as Electra Partners) acquired Allen & Heath in 2013, then acquired Calrec in 2014 and merged the companies with DiGiCo to create Audiotonix.
What’s interesting here is that it shows how vibrant the live sound portion of the business still is, especially on the high end. Of course, Audiotonix has the entire breadth of the market covered, with Allen & Heath on the low to mid market, and DiGiCo on the high end. Calrec specializes in broadcast consoles.
Although it’s great for the shareholders of Epris and Audiotonix, it’s not necessarily a good thing for the companies involved or the industry. The music business is small compared to other sectors, and private equity investors are generally looking at a way to make some quick money (as Epris just did). If the live concert business takes a downturn, these companies stand to suffer when the investor looks to stop the bleeding. Money is the king, not the products, brands, and especially not the customers.
Astorg does seem somewhat different though. It has invested in 20 companies dating back to 1999, and stayed with them through the economic downturn of 2008, which is a good sign that it’s in it for the long haul instead of to turn a quick buck. It’s currently on a spending spree as it has acquired interests in 4 companies in 2016 alone. Almost all of Astrog’s investments are outside the entertainment business, ranging from a chain of pet shops, to medical diagnosis equipment, to precious metals. It should be interesting to see how they deal with the makers of some expensive hardware in an audio business that is buying less and less of it.
Perhaps the greatest detriment to a session running smoothly is the inability for players to hear themselves comfortably in the headphones. This is one reason why veteran engineers spend so much time and attention on the cue mix and the phones themselves. In fact, a sure sign of an inexperienced engineer is treating the headphone mix as an afterthought instead of spending as much time as required to make them sound great.
While it’s true that a veteran studio player can shrug off a bad or distorted phone mix and still deliver a fine performance, good “cans” makes a session go faster and easier, and take out of the equation a variable that can sometimes be the biggest detriment to a session. Here are 3 tips from the recently released Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition that will make sure that the players and vocalists are happy with their headphones when the session begins.
1. Long before the session begins, test every headphone to make sure there’s no distortion and they’re working correctly (test with actual music).
2. Make sure there’s plenty of cable available so that the musicians can move around as needed. Use cable extenders as necessary.
3. Check to make sure that the cables are not intermittent (Nothing stops a session as fast as a crackling phone).
As far as the headphone mix is concerned, some engineers send the stereo monitor mix (the mix that you’re listening to in the control room) to the phones first and then add a little more of the individual instruments as needed (“more me”). This is a lot easier than building up individual mixes, unless that’s what the musicians request. Of course there are plenty of systems now available for the player to dial in his own mix, but it’s still a good idea to for the engineer to set up a preliminary mix for him. Some players just can’t aren’t able to set up a basic mix.
Whereas at one time each studio had to jerry-rig together their own headphone amp to power their cue mixes, these days it’s easy and fairly inexpensive to bu ya dedicated headphone amplifier from any number of manufacturers that’s easy to set up and sounds great. Companies such as Behringer, Furman, PreSonus, Rolls, and Aphex all make units that will work better and can be a lot cheaper than the traditional method of a large power amp with resistors strapped across it.
You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
Richard Gibbs has composed the music for over 60 films as well as some great television shows like The Simpsons and Battlestar Galactica. He’s a good friend and a great story teller, so it was time to have him back on the podcast (he was on Episode #38 a couple of years ago).
In Part 1 of the latest interview with him we take a deep dive into the politics of today’s film scoring, and how the job has changed from the way it was in the past. If you ever wanted to get into film composition you don’t want to miss this.
You’ll also hear some great stories that you won’t get anywhere else about producers changing composers mid-film, and the the many versions of the Battlestar Galactica opening theme. In the upcoming Part 2 we’ll talk about his unique one-of-a-kind studio overlooking the glorious Pacific ocean in Malibu (but there’s a lot more to it than that to make it special).
In the intro I’ll look at the new financing coming into the music business that may change the fortunes of artists and hedge funds alike going forward, and at the new generation of do-it-yourself audio kits.
2,500 years ago the Greeks composed songs where the voice was accompanied by the lyre, reed-pipes, and various percussion instruments. Much was already known about these instruments thanks to the descriptions, paintings from archaeological remains, which Greek scholars then used to establish the timbres and range of pitches the instruments produced. The songs however were lost to time until a few dozen ancient documents from 450BC inscribed with a vocal notation were found. These consisted of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words, which scholars made out as an ancient form of sheet music. So what did this ancient Greek music sound like?
You can now hear David Creese from the University of Newcastle playing “an ancient Greek song taken from stone inscriptions and played on an eight-string ‘canon’ (a zither-like instrument) with movable bridges.” The tune is credited to Seikilos and is supposedly 100% accurate.
Believe it or not, the most difficult part of transcribing the ancient tunes wasn’t in the melody, it was in the rhythm. The secret was in the pattern of the words and phrases (which makes sense). There’s more about how they dissected the tuning and melody in the this article from the BBC World News.
I don’t see this or any other ancient Greek music hitting the charts any time soon, but it’s interesting to get a glimpse into the music of ancient history.