24 Sep

Plugins and control surfaces

There are two very important things according to plugins. One is obviously how you like the sound of it, the other is how easy, convenient is to use it. The first goes without further comment. Read about it, download the demo, test it, and if you really like what it does, buy it. I could go into details (again), but in my opinion it’s pretty straightforward, because if you happen to dislike the plugin sonically, there’s no question, you won’t ever use it. So let’s assume we found our plugin and bought it.

Here’s come the second really important point, the ease of use.

Graphical User interface

The very first thing we see is the “face” of the plugin. It can be simple or artistic, or it may depict some vintage gear. The main point is how much do you like it? I know it’s strange to read this about plugins, but think about it for a moment. If you like the look of it, it’s more likely you’ll use it, your brain’s going to remember all the important controls and their exact position. And be honest, we all like a nice GUI, after all we stare at it for long hours on a typical mix session.

Just a very short personal note on this. While I really like these shinny, beautiful GUIs, I think sometimes plugin manufacturers should spend more time on usability and easy of use than graphics.

Technical issues

We cannot avoid some technical stuff when we try to find our trusty tools.

Obviously it’s very important to check if the plugin is available in the format our DAW support. In my case it’s AAX Native and it’s a bonus if AAX DSP also supported. I don’t want to derail my own post, but this DSP thing might need a bit of explanation. Although today’s computers are immensely powerful, in post production there are serious reasons why we like to have the DSP option. One, that is most mentioned on the online forums is latency. Namely when you have a full mix and need to record some overdub with the full mix still going intact, you might end up with latency issues with a Native only system. If your session is not so huge, then it wont’ be a problem.

For a quick example I just describe the last feature film score mix I did. I tested this on both Native and DSP systems, and believe me, a very, very powerful Native system would choke under the burden of this session:

  • 280 tracks
  • approx. 1000 plugins inserted
  • almost all HDX2 DSP was used up
  • 38% of a 6 core trashcan MacPro used up
  • session had a 1.5 hour-long HD video

Although I haven’t tested this, but using Native system only would be very demanding with a session like this.


This is a big one for me. It can be a world class plugin, but if the company behind it has a bad support, or the plugin constantly crash the DAW, I won’t use it.

I’ve found that some companies are much better at making efficient, stable plugins than others.

Other important consideration is how good is the plugin when it comes to automation. In the post audio world we heavily rely on automation, so plugins need to be 100% reliable. Otherwise you never know what really happens, and every bounce can be different, defective. On certain things you might spot the difference, but in a heavy mix it takes more time to find what causes the strange feeling that something is off. In a big supersession it can take forever to check every automated plugin.

Control surfaces

The last point is how the plugin maps on surface. Some would say that you can adjust the parameters with a mouse, which is true in essence, but when you have a huge mix, you need to have a more tactile control in front of you. To be honest, in 2015 it’s still surprising to me that many plugins simply not, or not well mapped to surfaces.

One particular example is Slate Digital plugins. I love some of their stuff, but the mapping is just unusable. Let’s take their Mixrack as the example. It is a very versatile tool as you can change the order of the processors, but if you look at the surface, you’ll see this:

mixrack s6 map

So, instead of clear parameters, you see this hodgepodge of letters and parameters. Obviously if you use different chains, the letters corresponds to completely different parameters. It’s not simply inconvenient, it’s unusable.

It’s a known issue at Slate, I’ve even emailed them, but their response was far from promising. They simply stated they know about the issue but have no solution right now. That’s it.

I know some would say it is because Slate has some competing product with the Raven, but I think any pro audio company who really thinking in long term should take this issue very seriously. I travel a lot, work a lot in different studios and controllers are everywhere. From the small few fader unit through the Artist series up to the fancy Avid S6.

05 Sep

Why I’ve upgraded to Pro Tools 12

Well, only one single day passed since my latest twitter post:

pt12 splash screen

To be honest, even the most serious posts don’t generate such a tsunami of emails I’ve received. First I thought someone hacked the site and spammed me, but after reading the messages it seems to me that despite the anger and frustration toward Avid, there’s still many people interested in Pro Tools, and I’m not talking about long time owners, but engineers who’s thinking of buying their first version with PT12.

The ones who think I’m crazy

There are some, who thinks I’m completely out of my mind, lost touch with reality, etc. to upgrade. I won’t list the not so positive things they wrote. To summarise, while to some degree I understand the anger and the frustration, I think these people should definitely think about life in general. Avid is a company, Pro Tools is a DAW. No one will get hurt if we receive or don’t receive a new function, Avid is not after us to ruin us and our families. Anger management can do wonders… :)

Isn’t it disturbing that Vanilla users got more things?

This was one of the biggest frustrations so far it seems. Well, for me, it’s not a sad thing. In my view, it is a very positive thing. Avid has to make Pro Tools Vanilla a truly usable alternative and this announcement is big step into the right direction.

Yes, I’m a long time HD owner and user, and I definitely think they should do much more to make us happy, but I think they need more time for this (call me optimistic…)

There’s no real value left in HD…

Well, that’s simply not true. HD still has several advantages over Vanilla. I won’t list all it, just mention a few I need and use daily:

  • Surround support. As I do scoring and re-recording, can’t live without it.
  • High track count recording. The same as above, to record huge film scores, I need many, many channels of IO.
  • Advance automation features. This is also a big one. I absolutely understand that not everybody need these, but please understand that many of us do!

They just want our money!

I can’t argue with this one. Yes, as they’re a company who sell hardware and software, they want and need our money. The question is rather: are they going to convince us to give our money to them?

If I take a look back to the last few years, I can tell you that there was nothing that could make switch DAW. I’m serious. There was some features in other DAWs that seemed interesting, but besides that all lacked the necessary features I use daily.

Honestly, why???

My favourite. If you make it this far, I think you already, at least partly know why I’ve upgraded.

First, Pro Tools HD is still the only DAW that has all the necessary features I need/use/love.

Second, it is the DAW I know intimately, done serious amount of work with it over the years, and it is the most stable for me also, which is quite important.

If we just had a beer I think I could share many stories why I choose and more importantly stick with it. I agree that unlocking features is not the same as developing and implementing new ones, but I’m optimistic, you may say childishly, that Avid can still make this right. They do it very well on the video side so I have confidence in them. Hopefully they won’t prove me wrong.

You can argue with me, but the new IO improvements are already a good sign, and after a short, few hours long test, this release is very stable (of course that’s not a feature).

27 Aug

Upgrading acoustics

If you ask any serious acoustician, she/he will tell you that there’s no such thing as a perfect room. It just simply does not exist. There are too many variables involved, so even if you really start from scratch, hire the best of the best, and build your own place, it may be the most precise in the whole World, but it probably won’t be absolutely perfect.

Our studios are very well designed and treated, however, during the years we still find minor things that bother us, which might be corrected. Of course there is our B chain processing, but it is much better to solve all possible issues at the source, with the help of proper acoustic treatment, and use the B chain processing do as small as possible.

During the last and this busy year we’ve been gathering all our pet peeves about the rooms we mix in, and the time has come to consult a real professional. We’ve measured and tried to correct smaller problems ourselves, but there are a number of things that truly needs professional assistance.

Bruel Kjaer sound source

Bruel Kjaer sound source

Today the professional team visited our studios and made thorough measurements in many spots in all the rooms, measured near-field, mid-field, far-field and speaker responses. After they gathered all the necessary data, now they’re back in their trusty labs and drawing boards to come up with solutions which won’t break our budget, but hopefully solve the remaining issues.

Proper acoustic treatment is never really cheap, however, with a real professional you might end up with many cheaper trick that really works instead of your half-baked ideas that might cost you more without real result.

Our issues centred around the low area, 70 to 90Hz and around the 250Hz area. The surround room has the chance to be the “almost perfect” room, the others can become fantastic rooms too, but require a bit more work (and money of course).

The real world test for me is always the successful mixes I can produce in a room. With successful I mean the quality of translation to the outside world, be it cinema, tv, radio or earbuds. The other important thing is how accurate the monitoring in the room. Can I hear the difference in plugins? Does the small pan or other parameter changes clearly audible both in stereo and surround? Does it show the smaller but compression or noise reduction artefacts? If a big YES is the answer, then I’m a happy mixer.

18 Aug

Plugin revision (again)

Every year I stop and look back, re-open older sessions to see what I’ve done and how I’ve done it. And also to see what tools I’ve been using, which are the ones I seldom use. To be honest my iLok is very valuable not for the obvious reason that it holds the licenses, but because I’ve spent huge amount of money to software in the last couple of years. But only spent money which was really worth, which I really needed for my job.

Test, demo, test

As you might know I’m very picky when it comes to plugins. I always, always thoroughly test before deciding if I really need or want something. I’m a true believer in that you don’t need 100 different EQs and 200 different compressors to mix. A few carefully selected ones will make your life easier, will help you to achieve the SOUND you’re after, but that’s it. No need to a mile long list of fetish emulation. Don’t get me wrong, there are superb emulations out there, but you certainly don’t need them all.


Plugin companies want you to believe that their new/old/emulation stuff will make your mix so much better, even they ask famous engineers to endorse/promote their plugins. In reality though, you need only a few to make a word class mix.

On my iLok I have 77 activated plugins. Including different Pro Tools licenses, EQs, Compressors, Reverbs and other miscellaneous stuff. I think it’s a bit too much, but going through the list I realise that I use almost all of it. Only 4 activated plugins sitting there mostly unused. Not because they’re bad, but whether I’ve found some better alternative, or I don’t really need it.

This yearly housekeeping always reminds me how important to choose our weapons wisely, and to not listen to promising advertising. Instead, if you feel the urge to buy something, I suggest to always, always make time to really test it. Do what you want to do with it, then do more, do crazy things with it to see-hear under all possible circumstances. After these first tests, try to recreate the behaviour with other plugins you already have in your arsenal. If, with some effort, it is possible to recreate that thing, you’ve got your answer, you don’t need the new plugin.

I take this very seriously. I could’ve spent many thousands on different emulations, but honestly many times they’re not that far apart from each other.

My very strict test process saved me huge amount of money over the years, so I stick with it. It takes more time and effort to always test the newcomers, but this way I really know that I have the best possible tools for my job.

Be your own judge, don’t let the marketing department fool you!

25 Jul

Avid S6 software update v2.0

Few days ago Avid released the brand new update for their flagship control surface. To be honest, I think the S6 community was very excited to have this new software version, as this seems to be a milestone. This version gives us functions which were missing from the S6 from day one. It gives us important things that could speed up our workflows, which is one of the main things we buy control surfaces for.

Update and test

After downloading the new version, the update went smoothly, the only thing took longer was to find all the necessary numbers, as this install need to be activated online or offline, so you’re going to need those yellow cards you received with your S6. This activation took me longer to finish than the whole upgrade. And don’t forget to upgrade the WScontrol software on your Mac/PC.

Version 2.0 supports Pro Tools 12 and 11.3.2 which is not released yet. As our facility wide upgrade is due to happen in a few months, I’ve been testing the new version with Pro Tools 11.3.1 and OSX 10.9.2. Be aware, this configuration right now is NOT officially supported by Avid. On the DUC they even acknowledge that with systems like this, we might experience a few bugs and obviously we cannot use every new function.

S6 v2 software

Still, I thought I give it a try as I think this update looks too good on paper to miss it. The test session is a feature film score mix in supersession format. It comprise 280 tracks, 224 buses, so many plugins I didn’t bother to count, complicated routing and 6 pieces of 5.1 stems and a Fullmix 5.1 and a downmixed Stereo recording track. All with a 90 minute long HD movie on the main video track. Automation is quite dense.

With a session this big, I experienced some crashes during these 5 very active mix days. Interestingly the crashes always happened when I tried to create new tracks for example. Never happened during recording or automating something. Plugin instantiating is stable, tweaking, automating, banking and all other operation on the surface is smooth and stable.

Available new functions works very well, although I just got my feet wet with these new things. One of my biggest fetish function: FLIP mode is a great thing, although now it is still somewhat limited in functionality, I already find it immensely helpful during mixing. As one of developers told us at the Avid forum, this function was probably the hardest to implement properly, so further improvement is coming with future releases.

One thing that seems to be a bit slower is boot time and session population on the surface, but this is a non-issue for me and I talk about a few more seconds here, nothing serious. Once it loaded up completely, all the banking, layout switching is fast.


I know nowadays it’s not fancy to say good things about Avid, I’m pretty happy with this new release and the way developers reach out to investigate, comment and help us with our issues and questions. Updates are coming, with every new release we get something new, or more refined and more stable thing, which proves that the original concept seems to be working in our favour and shows that the guys at Avid are really passionate and serious about their jobs.

Using software 2.0 on a unsupported system is surprisingly stable and great experience. Will report back after the full system upgrade to Yosemity and Pro Tools 12.

If you’re interested in the full new features of version 2 S6 software, read this article.