Category Archives for "Software"

New Music Gear Monday: Eventide Fission Structural Effects Plugin

Eventide Fission pluginMost processor plugins these days fall into roughly the same categories (EQ, compression, effects, denoise and utilities), so when a plugin comes along that starts a new category it’s big news. The plugin I’m talking about is the the Eventide Fission, which uses what the company calls its new Structural Effects (that would be the name of the new category) technology to break a signal down into its separate transient and tonal components.

Why would you want to do that? A number of reasons actually. For one, you can take any sound and twist it in a new and wonderful way to create something completely different, so it’s perfect for sound design.

But for those of us that just do music, it has lots of uses as well. For instance, it can provide much more convincing pitch alterations since you can keep the transient as it is, then tune just the body of the sound (there’s a great example on both snare and toms in the video below). Maybe you want to soften (or emphasize) a transient of a guitar to reduce the string or fret noise, or do the same with the body of the sound to reduce the room ambience. Maybe you’re doing a dance track and just want to completely mess up a synth sound into something totally new. There are tons of uses for Fission.

Keep in mind that Fission isn’t just another transient designer tool since it works on more than just the transient as you can manipulate the body of the sound as well. The plugin includes six effects (Delay, Tap Delay, Dynamics, Phaser, Reverb, and Gate + EQ) for the transient component, and seven (Delay, Compressor, EQ, Pitch, Chorus, Reverb, and Tremolo) for the tonal component. Fission’s Structural Split controls (Smoothing, Trans Decay, Source Type and Focus) combine with a real-time waveform display to show the user just how they are adjusting the split.

The Eventide Fission Structural Effects plugin has a list price of $179 but has an introductory price based on your Eventide purchase history. There’s also a free 30 day trial period. Go here to learn more, and check out the video below. Very cool!

Just What Your Mix Needs – Surveillance Tower Reverb

surveillance tower reverb pluiginI know, I know. You can’t finish that mix until you get the sound of an old surveillance tower to pull it all together. But where to find one? Well you’re in luck as the impulse responses from the Teufelsberg National Security Agency tower in West Berlin are now available. Best of all – it’s a free VST plugin.

The Teufelsberg security tower is a three-domed structure erected on a “devil’s mountain” of WWII rubble dumped on top of a half-finished Nazi military school. From this perch high above Berlin, the US government and its allies listened in on the communists of the Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union. It’s still standing, and you can add its cavernous sound to your tracks, thanks to Balance Audio Tools.

The plugin provides 6 different IR reverb sounds, all with fast, zero-latency convolution. There are only two controls, blend and gain, along with A/B compare and preset saving functions. It’s available as a free plug-in for Mac, Windows, and even Linux, and it’s open source.

Download it here.

Have a listen to what it sounds like.

If you want to tour of the structure, check out the video below.

My Latest Top 10 Compressors

Top 10 compressorsAbout 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?

New Music Gear Monday: Black Box Analog Design HG-2 Plugin

Black Box Analog HG-2 pluginHow 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.

New Music Gear Monday: Softube Acoustic Feedback Plugin

Softube Acoustic FeedbackAmplifier modeling has reached new heights of realism, and it’s to the point where even die-hard purists with big amp collections now show up to a session or a gig with just a modeling pedal. That said, one of the big problems with amp emulators has always been how difficult it is to get acoustic feedback. Let’s face it, you have to move some air first to get that sound that we all love so much. Until now, that is. Softube’s Acoustic Feedback plugin now allows you to get as much or as little real sounding acoustic feedback while staying exclusively in-the-box.

Acoustic Feedback has actually been around for while but I’m only getting hip to it now (thanks, Oz Amaro!). The plug is an offshoot of the White Marshall amp simulation from Softube’s Vintage Amp Room, although the one supplied is a stripped down version (that’s all you really need for feedback). It’s very cool in that it’s fully responsive to vibratos, bends, slides, and tremolos so it tracks your playing well. The user interface is simple: there’s a Mix control, a Feedback amount control that goes from subtle to natural to wild, and a Tolerance control that tracks your playing.

Best of all, you can assign a MIDI foot controller to the Feedback control to manually adjust the amount so it responds just like you were in front of a cranked Marshall!

Acoustic Feedback is available for VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and AAX DSP formats, and is just $49 with a 20 day trial period. You can find out more info here.

For those of you who gig with a modeling pedal and don’t want to drag your computer with you, Fender made a version of this called that Runaway pedal that combined the Softube Acoustic Feedback algorithm with a built-in foot pedal. Unfortunately, it’s no longer available, but you might be able to find one used.

Mixing Synth Bass And Real Bass Tracks

synth bassSometimes synth bass tracks are a real bear to get to fit into the mix, but add a real bass to that and many mixers will be pulling their hair out before they make it work. That’s because a synth can have way more low end than a bass and it’s not always easy to tame. At the same time, it can also have a very wide frequency range that gets in the way with other instruments in the mix. That makes mixing synth and real bass especially tricky.

Here’s a video by Ryan West that features some Softube plugins that can help keep both synth and real bass under control and really working in the mix.

New Music Gear Monday: FabFilter Pro-R Reverb Plugin

FabFilter Pro-RWe’re starting to see more and more next generation DAW plugins where outside the box thinking results in an easier user interface which ultimates leads to new or more useful sounds. Nowhere is that more evident than with the new FabFilter Pro-R Reverb plugin which takes many of the more difficult reverb concepts and controls and presents them in a new, easier to understand way.

FabFilter Pro-R has the same familiar interface as it’s other wonderful plugins, showing a real time waveform display, but this time with a decay time and EQ curve superimposed over the top. While there are many unique features of the plugin, one of the most striking and useful is the previously mentioned decay curve, which allows the user to simply grab and shape as necessary. This allows you to have different decay times for different frequencies, which while not totally unique, is presented here in a way that’s far easier to achieve the final result you’re looking for.

Another unique feature is the continuously variable Space control that lets the user fade between dozens of different room models and automatically chooses a matching decay time. Once again this is possible with most other reverb plugins, but the fact that as you dial up the Space control it automatically switches from algorithm to algorithm is not only pretty cool, but one of those “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” features.

There’s also a Distance control that adjusts how close the source is in relation to the reverb, so you can bring things closer or further away as needed. Of course, on most reverbs you can do this by adjusting the first reflections, but this is so much easier. A Character control also changes the sound from a clean, transparent decay to one with that’s over-modulated for a chorus-like effect. This is one clever plug!

The FabFilter Pro-R reverb plugin costs $199 (EUR 169 or GBP 149), and supports both Windows and Mac OS X in VST and VST 3, Audio Units, AAX, RTAS, and AudioSuite plug-in formats. Check out the website for more details, or this excellent video that pretty much explains everything.

Look Out Security – Headphones Turned Into Secret Microphones

Headphones secret microphonesIf you’ve studied audio technology at all then you know that loudspeakers/headphones and microphones are both principally the same in how they operate, they just work backwards from one other. Where the diaphragm of a microphone responds to moving air molecules to turn sound into an electronic signal, the loudspeaker turns an electronic signal into moving air molecules thanks to the motion of its diaphragm. We’ve used loudspeakers as mics in the past, most recently with the popular subkick on kick and bass, but now an Israeli company has found a way to turn headphones and earbuds into secret microphones to record the surrounding conversations.

Researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University have created a proof-of-concept exploit called “Speake(a)r,” that found that headphones were nearly as good as a microphone at picking up audio in a room. The hack is done by restasking the RealTek audio codec chip output found in many desktop computers from an audio output to an input. Apparently this is fairly easy to do, but hackers just haven’t it discovered it yet. The worst part is that it doesn’t even require a new driver, since the embedded chip has no security built into it and is easily reprogrammed.

Keep in mind that this is just a proof-of-concept, so no need to worry about your conversations or your audio tracks being compromise yet, but it does bring up a big question about the security of the everyday computer peripherals that we all use. Probably the last thing we ever think about is the cyber-security of our audio gear, but perhaps its time to be concerned.

What’s worse is the fact that audio professionals usually use higher-quality headphones than the average earbud listener, which means that the capture quality is better as well, although I’m not exactly sure the frequency response would be that good with closed-back headphones tightly fitted to the head. Then again, it’s pretty rare that matters of national security is discussed in a recording studio (unless you’re with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter). Still, it’s time to be aware that some of our everyday studio gear can be turned into secret microphones.

November 22, 2016

Adobe VoCo – With Great Power Comes Responsibility

Adobe VoCoAdobe recently provided a sneak peak of a feature of the upcoming Adobe Max product that they call VoCo, which will prove to be revolution in both dialog and music vocal recording if it works as previewed. So what is VoCo? The company is calling it “Photoshop for voice.” It samples the voice of a person and then allows you to construct or reconstruct dialog in that person’s voice, even if they didn’t say it in the first place! In other words, you can now manipulate voice like text.

VoCo will be very cool for those working with dialog for film and television, where you can rebuild the lines you need instead of going to ADR or resorting to massive cleanup tools. It’s a no brainer there, providing there’s some way to insert the needed voice inflections. I don’t know if this can be used for singing, but it would be a boon to producers to be able to replace a word or phrase on an otherwise perfect vocal after the fact. Those are some of its very cool upsides.

The downsides are many, however. It could give unscrupulous people a means to construct “fake news” with quotes that don’t actually exist. It could allow a producer to construct a vocal that actually had never been sung against an artist’s wishes to fulfill a contract. It potentially puts the power of performance into the hands of someone other than the performer.

Since VoCo is still on the drawing board, it’s too early to say if the powers above are overstated or not, but while we look at all the cool applications for the feature, there’s a lot of potential for the less than honorable there as well.

That’s why I look at the video below with a combination of awe and fear. This is some great technology that certainly has current real-world applications, but are we opening up Pandora’s Box here? See for yourself.

Using LUFS For Mixing

Using LUFS for mixingYou might have noticed that in the last few years, the differences in level between television shows, commercials, and channels are pretty even, with no big jumps in volume. That’s because viewers were complaining for years about the fact that there was a dramatic increase in level whenever a commercial aired because it was so compressed compared to the program that you were watching. Congress set out to do something about this, and in 2012 adopted a method to normalize those volume jumps that the European Broadcast Union put into place the year before – Loudness Unit Full Scale or LUFS.

LUFS (called LKFS in Europe) is a way to measure the perceived loudness of a program by measuring both the transient peaks and the steady-state program level over time using an a specially created algorithm. It’s different from a normal meter in that it doesn’t represent signal level – it measures how loud we perceive an audio program to be. For a broadcaster this is actually pretty serious, since if a station violates the mandated LUFS level of -23, it could possibly lose its broadcast license.

Even though LUFS was intended primarily for broadcast audio delivery, it has a new increased meaning in music production as well, as you’ll see in the video below. Thanks to the fact that streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music are now normalizing the songs so the level is the same from tune to tune, there’s no real benefit for compressing a song to within an inch of its life any more. In fact, less volume and more dynamic range are actually your friend.

Using a LUFS meter allows you to optimize your music mixes for a variety of platforms to be sure that they’re always in the sweet spot for dynamic range.

Check out this video from MasteringTheMix that uses its LEVELS plugin to illustrate how this all works. Keep in mind that there are other LUFS meters on the market as well from TC Electronic, Waves or other developers.