27 Apr

Plugin purchase #3

The third choice is a real swiss army knife. It’s an EQ and a dynamic EQ with a very clever UI. I’m talking about the McDSP AE400 Active EQ.

Active EQ

If you need a great EQ on steroids, I recommend to take a serious look at this beast. It’s low-latency, Native and AAX DSP and has some really helpful features which I love.

It has a permanent place on my buses and on my masters, even on certain instruments. The fact that it’s an active EQ if you want is more than helpful. Basically it means it only affects the predetermined band if the signal passes the threshold (going above or falling below… more on this later). This is the best thing we can ask for. Only affect the for example the low-end, when needed, but don’t touch it until the signal rise above the threshold.

One of my favourite thing is to clear up things on master buses. With today’s film scores we usually have a huge orchestra with very dense orchestration plus additional midi stuff and electronic things to make things even more interesting. In the huge forte events, the low-mids can terribly build-up and we might have another problem in the mid-high area where things can get that too piercing, hurting sound. In this example, if you start to EQ the individual tracks, you might loose your basic sonic picture. If you start to EQ the buses, you loose frequencies that you actually need, but they are too much only at the loudest parts. This is a situation where the ActiveEQ is here to help. Only attenuate the problem areas when the huge forte passes happening, but leaving the whole spectrum alone in any other case. Meaning you still have your fat low-mids all the time except when it’s too much.

Let’s see a few gems:

key listen

ae400 key listen

You can use the built-in keys or key the Active EQ from an external source. While you use the built-in band per band key, you can listen to them in isolation makes it extremely easy to spot problem areas or recognise weak spots that need some more care. As the bands are fully overlapping, you can sweep through the spectrum in order to find the territory you want to treat.

peak indicator

ae400 peak indicator

Each band has its own peak indicator which makes the threshold setting process incredibly fast. No guessing, just keep the transport playing and you’ll see exactly where each band is peaking. I’ve found this to be very helpful to find the ballpark in seconds, then tweak from there.

band linking

ae400 band linking

There are times when I have the right settings, but want to make some further adjustments on more than one band at once. No problem here as I can quickly link the necessary bands together and from that point on, I’ll have linked interaction.

ratio control 

ae400 ratio

It’s a pretty unique feature, most dynamic EQ doesn’t have this feature. At first I thought maybe it’s not that of a big deal, but after a short test it showed its value. Cleverly using the ratio control allows you to do quite big adjustments with incredible transparency. I tried some other Dynamic EQs and believe me, this ratio feature is really helpful

Active plot

ae400 active plot

Once everything is set up, you can see what’s happening on the active plot, it’s a very nice representation of what’s going on. If I would ask one thing, that would be resizable plugin window to see the action in big.

So, this is the third one, McDSP’s dedication to the AAX DSP platform and the quality of their plugins bought a permanent place here on most of the master buses and solo instruments.

21 Apr

What real-life can teach you

If it’s not obvious from the title, yes, I’m talking about my recent livesound experiences. But wait, it’s not a rant. Far from it. Although I must admit that the last few days couldn’t be more disastrous technically. Still, I think there’s a few things a sound engineer can do in order to make things (the gig) happen. Take this as a survival guide, but not a technical one.

Solution provider

I know it is a cliche, but really this time if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem. Yes, it might be one of the worst gig with almost impossible circumstances. But never forget one thing: you’re not hired to reinforce the bad, but to do the best you can. It’s that simple. The moment you focus on how it is not possible, you lost.

It’s not my job… well, this is probably one of the most destructive sentences ever in a bad situation. Yes, technically probably you’re right, it shouldn’t be your job, but the band hired you because they trust you. Go that extra mile to prove they’re right.

Ready for the unexpected

Right now I can’t count how many different digital and old analogue console serve as the built-in local board. Simply put, it’s impossible to know it all. Really. I’d been the executive FOH engineer for the biggest festivals in Hungary for years so I have a pretty good knowledge about the biggest ones, but still I always had my iPad with me filled with users manuals. One thing I really learnt from this is it’s not important to know every menu item. The thing you need to know is what you want to do. If you’re utterly lost in a console, simplify. Think it over calmly. The only thing you need to know is how the signal goes in, and goes out. That’s it. If you know this simple thing, you’ll find everything. In the path you’ll find the EQ and Dynamics section, etc.

Just don’t panic.

Negotiations

Of course there’ll be things that won’t work, or couldn’t be achieved. Be honest. Never ever promise something that you can’t do. It might seem convenient first, but musicians will ask for it, so in the end it’s not a good idea. Be brutally honest, but don’t be a jerk. There’s a big difference between real honesty and saying no to everything and being rude. It is your job to communicate properly. In my experience most of the time people understand and appreciate honesty, even if that means they have to give up something for that particular show.

Be the cleaner

Honestly I don’t know any other place where you can learn a lot about how to EQ effectively and precisely. Removing the junk with EQ is actually an art. A very practical one, once mastered, can make your show sound much better. This is actually also a very good exercise, and the benefit is there when you get back to the studio. After a bit of practice, you’re going to be faster, more precise and more sensitive to EQ changes. This is good no matter what area you’re working in the audio-land.

Decision maker

Whether you like it or not, it’s not your comfy studio with a hundred mastering grade plugins and ample time. You have to do it fast, make proper decisions along the way and stick with them until you find they’re not working. You have to make decisions. Have to make decisions no other guy in the room would like to make. It’s your job. Even if sometimes it’s hard.

In my opinion, you can learn a lot from all of the above mentioned things. Over time it’s much easier, but still, it’s not that easy even after many, many years. But you have to deal with them, properly. The side benefit is that you’ll be more comfortable with many things that also could happen in the studio. So to wrap up, you can learn a lot of things from it. But to really be better, you have to keep trying, no matter how bad that night is.

05 Apr

Angelbird SSD2go

I’ve been looking for a good, small, reasonably priced and very fast external SSD for a long time. I know, life is not a Disney cartoon, I can’t get everything I wish for. But I was sure about that there’s at least a good compromise which fulfil most of my requirements. Then a few weeks ago I came across this brand which was honestly completely unknown for me, but thankfully Pro Tools Expert site mentioned it, and did some real-world test with it.

The size game

This is a real problem with SSDs. If they are big capacity wise, they are very, very expensive. With Angelbird SSD2go the capacity/price ratio seems reasonable.

And let’s talk about the physical size.. Well, it’s smaller than you’d think. When you just read it on a website, well, it’s not the same. It measures 89.0 x 69.9 x 10.4 mm so it is small. In reality it’s much smaller than your phone which makes it extremely easy to carry around from studio to studio and if you have more than one, it still won’t fill your bag. Actually about four of these little babies occupy the space normally one drive would.

At the end, let me praise its speed. Ok, it’s an SSD, so it’s amazingly fast, but what the main point here is the sustained read/write rate, which is really great. Have to copy huge folders? No problem, it won’t slow down in the middle of copying the data. I highly recommend this monster to anyone in need of portable rapid work SSD.

This is the actual size in my hand:

angelbird ssd

18 Mar

Plugin purchase #2

The second choice is one of favourite. Not only because of the quality of the plugins, although that’s important, but the hero behind the products. I’m talking about Michael Carnes, the man behind some of the most successful Lexicon products, and lately, one of the most pristine sounding plugins on the market.

Exponential audio reverbs and effect bundle

Because of the quality of the plugins, the decision is, we need all of his plugins. The reverbs definitely feels like the highest quality hardware units. Only without the hassle of using an external unit. Just a quick overview.

Phoenixverb

The pure, natural sound. Most of the time it’s much better than an IR reverb. It creates real space around the source, without any artefacts. The GUI is not about eye-candy graphics, instead it offers clear and logical controls organised so you can find and operate the plugin quickly.

Phoenix surround

Formats goes from simple mono to 7.1, and with the link function you can use it in the immersive surround environments.

Another great thing is the presets are not only there to give you some starting point, they’re stellar sounding settings, usable without further tweaks.

R2

Well, the R2 is the reverb that gives you that somewhat coloured larger than life sound. Sonically it’s more noticeable than the Phoenix but once you find the the right balance between the the direct and wet, it’s just unbelievable. When you try the presets, the same goes for the R2. Without any tweaking it is absolutely great with the basic presets.

The GUI is almost the same, you’ll find all the controls easily.

R2 surround

The additional functions like the chorus and gate can really change and colour the sound.

Another big thing for me is how easy to adjust these reverbs in the surround field. Level, delay, metering is all right at the perfect place when you need it.

Excalibur

What can I say? Is there anything delay based special effect that it can’t do? I don’t think so. This is a beast you have to treat with respect. This is a plugin you’ll spend long days figuring out what it can do. This is a delay you’ve dreamed of. This is a multi-effect that can be subtle, but able to transform your sound into very special things.

Excalibur

These are the reasons why we need it.

Stay tuned for the next part.

10 Mar

Plugin purchase #1

At least once a year me and my colleagues get together for a brain storming session to discuss which are the best plugins of the year. Which, in our case means, what plugins we want to purchase for our workstations.

We can’t buy everything, but we can buy the necessary things, which includes new developments, desert island plugins, even some vintage emulations if that’s what will make our mixes really better. So with all the ideas, the long testing periods, the discussions we select our favourites. That’s a pretty big list at the start, then we try to pick priorities. The most popular goes up in the list and at the end we have what I call the would-be-cool to have plugins.

This year’s highlights

Avid HEAT

HEAT stands for Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology. Developed by Avid and the legendary Dave Hill, who I think really needs no introduction.

I’ve been looking for the holy grail of analogue emulation for a long time, and HEAT was always on my radar, but haven’t tested it thoroughly before. Tried many other from different companies, but all failed at some point. Some sounded very good, but hindered my workflow, some maps on surfaces poorly like the Slate plugins. I even reached out to some developers if they are interested to fix the obvious shortcomings, but even in 2016 it seems that many plugin company still only interested in selling their thing, but not make it work properly.

So after the dead-end streets I found HEAT again. If you’re not really familiar with it, here’s a video that explains it much more interestingly than I ever could:

No-one can argue that the integration within Pro Tools is absolutely spectacular. And it works great with control surfaces. Now about the sound. Now I assume you know that it is capable of emulating the tape-like sound and the tube-like sound, depending on the setting. But instead of trying to emulate one or two iconic equipment, it promises to really emulate the analogue process itself. Non-linearity, softening the transients like tape and almost organically reacting to the input signal.

For the causal viewer it may seem that we would need more controls and parameters to adjust this analogue-like process, but believe me, the two main knobs are just what we need. One direction gives you more tape-like sound, the more you turn the knob counter-clockwise the more you hear the effect, and if you go to the clockwise direction, you’ll get a rich tube-like sound. Besides this, you have a simple tone control, so you can gain back the high loss caused by the tape algorithm for example. Other than these, there’s a global bypass, channel by channel bypass and pre-post buttons which define if the process takes place pre-plugins or post.

heat

To be honest I was, and still surprised that this genius algorithm is actually working on insanely different materials. Tried it on jazz, symphonic, score music, rock, you name it, and it really works. The simple two knob control method really allows you to get the sound you want literally in seconds.

I’m a big believer of subtle small things that can really take the mix to the next level. HEAT can does that.