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Tamas Dragon Posts

Avid subscription

At the end of this month was a marked day in my calendar as this is the day when my Avid Pro Tools HD subscription will expire.

If you’re a frequent visitor at forums you might get the impression that no one will renew it. Obviously this is huge exaggeration. There’s many users, including me, who is not satisfied with Avid, but we still use and actually love Pro Tools. Yes, with its shortcomings.

Reality

To be honest due to the nature of my job I encounter many different DAWs almost daily and even tried some myself. Because I wanted to know how good they are. In my experience the grass is not greener at the other side, to be honest, it’s not greener anywhere else.

The tools, the implementation, the workflow enhancements, the stability (yes, you read it right), the backward compatibility, etc. I could go on forever. Believe me, I’ve done my research quite well, but Pro Tools is far the best DAW on the market for my job.

avid customer care

The outcome

Plain and simple today I renewed my yearly subscription. Because I wanted to, because I depend on this tool daily and I love to use it.

With all that said, I’d like to see more bug fixes, more features and first of all, more open and honest communication.

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Recording Placido Domingo

As yearly we record many world famous artists, you may wonder why it is a big thing to record one of the most famous opera singer now. Well, because this time we’re not inside our perfect hall with our installed equipment with a plethora of mics to choose from, all the necessary gear installed, tested and ready to go, but inside Budapest’s biggest arena.

BP arena

The equipment

Arena concerts are always a challenge, we need top-notch and reliable equipment. Regarding the microphones it’s a serious balance game. You must go much closer to the instruments or else it’s impossible to have a working PA system with enough gain before feedback. However, you shouldn’t go too close or else you won’t be able to really get that lush symphonic sonic picture, it’s going to be more rock n’ roll, which is not appropriate in this genre.

Although I know that many hates the term industry standard, but in this case in absolute agreement all audio engineer wanted Schoeps microphones. So, after the set up the stage looks like going a proper Schoeps forest.

For the singers we have mk21 capsules. Those have a wide cardioid pattern which give more freedom in positioning, and if the singer moves or misses the his/her proper position, we’ll still have perfect sound. This capsule is a fantastic combination as it has all the good things of a cardioid while they managed to eliminate almost all the downsides of this pattern.

The orchestra is pure gear porn really. All instruments is captured by 56 piece of Schoeps mk4. The mk4 is a simple cardioid pattern capsule with one exceptional capability. The off-axis response is superb. Not that bad, full of boxy and honky tones, nasty midrange, but really usable sound. It can be so clear that sometimes you might mistakenly think that it’s full on-axis. Schoeps has been a outstanding choice for all kinds of recording situation, be it more complicated like this, or more traditional and controlled one.

Besides these, at least 6-10 mics cover the audience area, mainly some DPA shotguns and Schoeps cardioids.

Our cosy recording space and the rig:

arean rec rig

We have separate consoles for the live sound part and for the recording as we have to mix a proper stereo guide for the OB van. For the PA it’s a Digico SD10, for the recording we use Avid’s new S6L. Separate gain is big advantage as with that we’re not tied to the PA gains as they might need different levels than us.

Two separate Pro Tools HDs are the main recorders of the show, while two separate additional MADI recorders is serving as safety backups.

At least 14 camera positioned on and around the stage area with a HD capable OB van near the stage.

The PA system is Meyer Sound Lyon with 1100LFC subs. Delays are Meyer Leopards with HP700 subs. The system provider team is one of the best in the country so I’m sure it couldn’t be better than this.

Doing your job

A concert like this really requires full attention from all who is involved in the production at any level. There’s no room for error, everything must be perfect as this is a one time show with only a small rehearsal at the afternoon. Proper planning and attention to detail is our best friends on occasions like this. For some it might look like overkill, but multiple checks and test must take place during the day. It’s simply not enough to have an A and B plan, we have many more. These are not merely theoretical plans, we always check them through to make sure they are truly working ones in case we’d need them.

Results

Both the rehearsal and the show went well, without any technical problem. This is natural, because we had well thought out plans and tested everything rigorously before the show.

Now we’re back in the studio mixing the show, because the National TV will probably broadcast this very soon due to the high demand. More than 2 thousand people couldn’t get in that night.

It was a great collaboration with the live sound guys, and a rare occasion where truly there were no ego fights. Everybody only cared about the production, which makes this experience even better.

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Weird hiccups and the search for the cause

Almost as soon as I posted the positive experiences I have with the latest Pro Tools release, our main rig started to act weird under some tasks. It was strange because one problematic session was big, but the other was as tiny as one 5.1 channel and 6 mono channels. The only thing happened in the small session was some editing. I could find a thousand reason why the bigger one made Pro Tools act weird, but honestly this rig usually handles much bigger and much more complicated sessions.

Before anything happens, one warning: Always Save As the session to a new TEST session.

This way you never mess up some valuable real session and anyone can see from the session name that this is NOT a real usable session.

Initiating Sherlock mode

Of course, before shouting that 12.5.2 is bad, it might be wiser to investigate the issues a bit. First of all, let’s see what’s changed lately:

  • Updated Pro Tools to 12.5.2
  • Updated the S6 to the latest 2.2 software
  • Started to use disk cache (28GB)

These alone would be enough, but there are a few more variables here:

  • Both sessions located on our central storage system, so no files on local hard drive
  • One has multiple videos in the session with h264 codec, the second video has been edited to some degree

The errors we received during work:

  • AAE -9129 / Audio processing could not complete due to conflicts with other CPU tasks or a potential clocking issue. If this occurs often, verify your sync cables or try changing the HW Buffer Size…
  • Automation too dense

To be honest, we rarely see any error messages, but receiving multiple ones in 3 days is definitely raises eyebrows.

As many things has changed in the last few days due to the updates I need to test things one by one to be sure that I really find the root of the problem.

Video engine

We use the AJA T-tap on every machine, which is a very nice and dependable little unit, however we all know that the built-in video engine is far from being perfect. To make this worse, as I mentioned before, we use h264 video instead of DnxHD for example. So my first thought was that there’s something going on with this part. First, tried to disable the video engine, then removed all the video from the session but it didn’t make any difference.

The other thing is, the smaller test session didn’t have any video in it to start with, but still as the video engine is always on, I thought this is a good starting point.

After this I turned the video engine on. It is an important step as we never know if multiple things causing trouble.

Central server

Next I tested the connection and availability of our central server. None of the IT and Pro Tools tests showed any problem there. Actually I could double the load on the network and still had ample headroom.

I even asked the IT guys if they modified something in these days, but they didn’t touch anything.

So now we eliminated two things. At this point I started to fear that maybe this new Pro Tools version could be our problem. But never make premature assumptions.

Disk Cache

We’ve never used disk cache before due to the lack of ample RAM for it. I used on some bigger score mixes but only occasionally, always switched it off after the mix. To be honest this was my first thought, but I wanted to be sure.

As soon as I switched it off back to normal all our problems disappeared like if some angel would help us setting up our rig. To be sure that this is the real problem here I made even more tests and sadly it seems that disk cache doesn’t play well with our central server. It’s not a dedicated MAM so this might be a problem.

Worst things happened when the disk cache was on and upon loading the session I wouldn’t wait until the disk cache buffer was completely filled. That way I could produce an error message in any second. If I waited long enough and it was ready, filled up completely, it seemed much more stable but still far less compared to the off state.

Lesson learned

So now we have ample RAM for everything, I switched off disk cache on all machines because they are very stable without it, and quite sensitive and unstable with it. Every workstation is on Yosemite with Pro Tools HD 12.5.2. World peace recovered, after 6 days of testing all seems fine now.

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Button caps vs. Stickers on the S6 surface

Almost every S6 owner knows that when Avid launched this control surface, some of the buttons had different mapping, hence early adopters now has wrong labels on some of the buttons.

old text

The picture shows you the old state. This also means that the labels are wrong there. These are originally programmable buttons and almost right after the launch the engineers at Avid decided that they change the mapping to a more convenient one. Unfortunately when they did this, many S6 had been already sold.

new text

Now we have two options. One is obviously to learn the new mapping and ignore the current labels. That is what I did and I have no problem with that, but I can absolutely understand if someone find this misleading.

Solution?

Avid offer a set of stickers for free for every S6 owner, so you can re-label the buttons with those. Why not changing the caps? Because by design our beloved control surface has different button structure which technically we call tree structure. So you can’t simply remove the the cap and change it. In order to remove the old and put in the new buttons, you should remove the whole module, break the upper surface (I guess it’s glued to something), remove the button tree from inside, install the new ones and assemble the module.

While it may sound easy, it is quite complicated, might render the module useless, although I’m not sure about that because I don’t know how they manufacture it.

I still don’t know if I will use the stickers, but I ordered them and if my colleagues want to see the proper labels then I might use them.

Every S6 owner can order the stickers free from here.

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An interesting Vlog for sound fanatics

It’s rare that we’re able to see behind the scenes of a tour, to get a sense of what difficulties they meet daily, how they solve it. During this little series you might catch some really cool tips and trick from Robert Scovill. Even more enjoyable that he shot little Vlog videos during day offs so it is somewhat personal instead of the usual cold technical training.

I’m happy that I’ve found his little series and really enjoyed as it recalled many of my own memories from the past. Enough said, go over to Avidblog Robert Scovill Vlog series, and enjoy.

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