19 Jan

Small Pro Tools tip #1

This is just a really small tip, a tiny helper to make your work more efficient. Often having impossible deadlines I find myself spending time with unnecessary tasks as analysing the finished mix with some offline loudness meter plugin. Couple of weeks ago though, I discovered that if I use offline bounce and leave the plugin open (on screen), at the end of the bounce I can see the result of the loudness measurement, including the whole show’s loudness graph.

insight offline bounce

This works beautifully with Izotope’s Insight, but it seems that it doesn’t work for example with Avid’s ProLimiter. But if you’re an Insight user, you’re in luck. Don’t miss the opportunity to streamline your workflow, bounce and measure at the same time. Enjoy!

05 Jan

Test result

So, this is the day I decide which up-mixer plugin to buy. I already had a good listening session earlier this morning, this time just quickly compared the results, no additional knob tweaking. And, of course, now I know what I want.

But first, a few words about the two candidates.

ADL Penteo

Thankfully Penteo has only so much knobs and switches what you really need. You won’t find any additional, hidden parameters under some extra menu. This is a good thing in my book, because all the necessary things are in front of me, so I can quickly dial the necessary things. While in reverbs for example I love to tweak things, with an up-mixer I want results quite fast.
It’s important to note that this plugin does NOT use any reverb, filter, delay or steering to achieve the surround sound, which means that the downmix of the up-mix (which is very important) is literally perfect. The process works by separating mono and differential components in the original material, and then let you adjust how loud/soft you would like to treat the surround channels. Additionally we have 6 discrete algorithms to choose from, varied from music specific through quad to hard centre.
I’ve found it pretty easy to achieve a great up-mix in no time, then a near perfect downmix. The different algorithms make sense to the user, so you won’t need to read thousands of pages to scratch the surface. If you know what you want to do, you can do it quickly with stellar sonic results. I love the LFE option, it gives us the option to really fine tune our up-mix.
One thing to note: Penteo is not a typical large mix session plugin, as it adds huge delay. True, Pro Tools HD/HDX can compensate this, but in a large mix it can be problematic, so in my opinion, first you need to prepare the material in a separate session, then use the 5.1 files in the mix session.

adl penteo

Auromatic Pro 2D

First thing to know, this plugin uses a completely different method to achieve the up-mixed surround sound. It uses a variety of early reflection patterns. There are several choices you can select under the Ambience menu. Small, medium, large and open, each has two versions. Sometimes the difference is very subtle, sometimes obvious. The point is, this up-mixer creates an instantly lovable sound, sometimes more full sounding than the Penteo. However you should be aware of that you cannot switch off the ambience, hence it’s always going to add something to the original signal, which can be tricky at the downmix part of the chain. With very minor tweaking, you can create a great surround up-mix from any mono or stereo material, however I couldn’t make it so centre, and L-C-R “aware” as the Penteo. And while it is easy to create a very convincing, full sounding surround, if you go just a bit over the top, you can hear that in your downmix. In most cases though the downmix of the up-mix is quite convincing.
I’ve found that this plugin is very efficient CPU wise, I could use many instance in one session.

auromatic 2d

The decision

To be honest, I’m absolutely amazed by these two up-mixers. As I wrote yesterday: If I were a rich man… I would buy both. And this is the truth. However, unfortunately I cannot afford that, so I have to choose one. For my applications, for the things I like and I have to work with, I choose ADL’s Penteo Pro. After so many tests, it can serve me better.

04 Jan

Test day #2

This is the end of day two. As I feel it, it was even more gruelling, or simply I’m just more tired now. The point is, I made so many tests I can’t even list them. I had a long list which I wanted to test, but during the different tests I came up with new ideas and of course I tried those too, so I’ve spent much more time with these experiments than what was planned.

As I felt that right now my brain is full, my ears are tired, I’m going to make the final decision tomorrow, however I think I already know the answer, but one more sleep over it to be sure.
With all that said, I honestly say this: both Auro and Audiotech Digital did an amazing job creating their up-mixer plugin. These plugins are pure magic.
Although they use different techniques to do their job, both can make your stereo material shine in a 5.1 environment. These two beasts are so magical that many times you cannot even spot the difference between a truly 5.1 mix and the up-mix.

Tomorrow I’ll have a final listening test, only after that I’m going to choose the winner. One more note though: the winner in this case means it’s better for me, because of my needs, it doesn’t mean that the other is inferior in any way. Honestly if I were a rich man… I would buy both.

sr rtw

03 Jan

Test day #1

Today has been an extremely busy test day for me. As some of you might noticed from my twitter feed or from a previous post, right now I’m actively testing surround up-mixer plugins. A few words on the test process.

Versatile demo session

Before I even began asking for demos, I prepared a test session that contains lots of different material, almost everything one can possibly imagine:

  • Classical music (original stereo mix)
  • Classical music (stems created from original multitrack)
  • Pop/rock stereo and stems
  • Individual instruments (mono and stereo – from snare through guitars to grand piano)
  • Foley only (mono)
  • SFX only (mono and stereo)
  • Atmospheres (mainly stereo)
  • Dialogue
  • Snippets from complete stereo mixes (both drama, music, etc.)

Well, maybe some of my test material seem strange to you, namely dialogue for example, but I really want to hear and know what these plugins can or cannot do. And the only way to really judge them in my opinion is to force them to do weird things. Things you probably never want to do on real material, but it’s really nice to know the boundaries. With the insane deadlines I seldom have the luxury to experiment so I thought this is the perfect time to go wild.

Besides the up-mixers, I’ve set up the session with some cool surround tricks I usually use, just to check how these up-mixers behave, what they can really offer me what I can’t do otherwise. Note that I’ve done quite a lot of up-mixes without any special plugin. The reason I would like to have one is that this process is very laborious. One have to use many different tricks to up-mix a material and as every show/song is different, you can’t escape but test your methods on every occasion. As I don’t really have time for this, I decided I need a high-quality up-mixer plugin.

Lost sense of time

I thought I’m seriously organised, even made detailed notes on what to check, what to look for, but honestly I didn’t think that it’s going to take so unbelievably long. I always read the manual before start to use the software so I was familiar with all the functions, all the advanced settings and yet here I am after a good 10 hours of active test, and frankly I’m not finished yet…

My original plan was to quickly and very effectively test the two main candidate and then do a direct comparison, so at the end of the day I’m going to know which is the clear winner for me, ready to purchase it. Now, here I am, tired, writing this blog post, knowing that tomorrow is going to be the very same, with a different plugin. And still, I’m curious like a child.

02 Jan

New year’s very early discoveries

First of all, Happy New Year to everyone!

Well, it’s not about any new year’s resolution, I’m not that type, sorry. Rather, it’s about some perspective. Amidst the big mixing sessions I seldom have time to really experiment with different plugins, try absolutely new things, so I thought as the start of the new year is a bit more calm, I make some tests.

Reverb

My lovely reverbs for post production and for music. Many fellow engineer recommended me different reverbs for certain tasks and as I’m admittedly a reverb fan, well, downloaded most of it to hear what they can do for me. After many hours of testing and tweaking things in Pro Tools I came to this very succinct conclusion:
If you need very high quality, really stellar sounding verbs with reliable automation, use Exponential Audio’s Phoenix and R2 and Avid’s Revibe.
Probably many of you just raised your eyebrows, but I must say that Revibe is still a exceptionally good reverb, I would go as far as to say if you’re in post production, it’s a must have. From time to time I love to experiment and test new things, but for a reason I always use this trusty old friend. I think the difference lies in the thought process that went into designing and updating this reverb. The original idea was to make a great and versatile room modelling plugin that suits for post production. At least that’s what I think and that’s what I feel when I use it. Very well made presets gives you direction, but if you want, tweak the parameters until you hear what you want.

reverbs

I know it’s probably strange that I don’t mention any convolution verbs. I have my reasons for it. Because I hardly use any. First, the most popular one cannot be automated properly, there are many issues with its automation, if you’re more interested in it, dive into some real user forums or test it yourself. The second, and this is the biggest one for me, is that for some reason many times they sound flat, lifeless and not really convincing. I’m not an expert so I don’t know the reason behind this, but it seems to me that algorithmic reverbs tend to sit better in the mix. They sound more organic and frankly, many times more realistic.

Upmix

I started to test the few remaining upmix plugins. Two things:

  • they are expensive
  • all require magicians and witches to code one

Right now, I’m testing the Auromatic Pro 2D up-mixer which seem to be preferred by many excellent mixer. I think the reason why many of these up-mixers failed to convince me is that I need them for multiple things. One day for music, the other day for complete mixed material, and after that for some special effects things. I’ve found that most up-mixer is good maybe only for one thing, but fail when it comes to multi-faceted work, not to mention that it must downmix perfectly. I have high hopes in this Auro up-mixer simply because the engineers who recommended it I trust.

auromatic 2d

The next few days going to be very interesting ones for me during these tests.

Plugins

It is only a small discovery, but for me, a very enlightening one. I checked my recent templates and discovered the fact that I’m using only a few different ones. If you’d take a look at my iLok list, I have many different types of EQ and Dynamics, etc. but it seems I only use a very small percentage of it.
From EQ I usually use 2 types, 3 types of dynamics and as you might have guessed, the aforementioned reverbs, that is all. And the real discovery is that I don’t even miss the rest!
This, again, proves the point for me that we don’t need a hundred different compressors or EQs for a mix.