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Tag: exponential audio

The anatomy of a score mix #5

Today it’s all about reverbs. In some ways it’s interesting how much and how different reverbs are being used in a score mix, on the other hand sometimes it’s quite the opposite, reverbs used very sparingly.

Obviously this heavily depends on the score and the concept. But many times especially on symphonic material reverbs are only used to enhance things a bit, to reinforce acoustics and not for really hear the effect itself. This is because mainly when it comes to a symphonic orchestra, we strive to maintain the real coherent balance, only elevating the whole picture without ruining the delicate bond that makes a real orchestra inimitable.

In a hybrid score that comprise electronic and acoustic material we might use more or even less depending on how we can massage together the two vastly different worlds. Although I’m always surprised how well these two completely different types can live together in perfect harmony sonically if you find the right balance.

This is a hybrid score with lots of electronic stuff in there so let’s see what I’ve used to create space, to enhance acoustics and to create distinct effects.

Altiverb XL

I think this would’ve been everyones’s first guess. Altiverb in my opinion is the very best convolution reverb. High quality impulses and the guys really work hard to grow the already huge library of impulses. Although I’m known to be mostly in love with algorithmic reverbs, if I need anything impulse based, I reach for Altiverb. I have my own favourite halls and rooms I always start out with and then tweak them if needed. The XL version is the complete surround iteration of the plugin which is not cheap, but definitely worth the price.

Exponential Audio R2 surround

This was my very first purchase when I discovered the brand. Absolutely blown away from it I clearly remember that I played with this for days. I liked it so much that I failed to create a favourite preset list as I loved so many presets. Since then I own many of Michael’s plugins and for a good reason. They are superb! The amazing thing is it can be subtle small room of a huge arena, the R2 can recreate it with vibe and feel. The implementation is just perfect. If you want to keep it simple, just call up a preset and probably you’re ready to mix. But if you need more control over the surround field, it’s right in there only a mouse click away. Very well thought out interface that helps you find everything in seconds. Still my first choice for scoring.

Exponential Audio Phoenix surround

The brother of R2 I guess. If you need real spaces, look no further. It’s amazingly clean, many times I like it more than almost any convolution on the planet. I’m not an expert in algorithms so I won’t be able to tell you why this plugin can create more realistic feel than most impulse based one, but it’s true. You should try it. The other nice thing is the Exponential interfaces follow the same basic principle so once you know one, you know all of them. No need to search for things, it’s all very logically placed so during mixing it’s easy if you would like to change any parameter. All of Michael’s plugins are extremely reliable when it comes to automation and they are zipper free so even if you glide from one set of parameters to something completely different, they won’t create that nasty zipper noise many other plugins produce.

Avid Revibe

The old and trusty one. Well, not so old as they updated it to AAX DSP. One thing everyone should know is that Revibe is always running in surround mode, meaning it’s eating the same DSP or CPU power even if it’s only a mono or stereo instance. Otherwise it’s still very popular even in post production circles. It’s a great reverb. For music I have my favourite presets in it, and tweak those a bit to fit my needs. Still, Revibe always find its place in my score mixes. In the last one or two years I tend to use it less and less, but there are certain things that it does perfectly. It’s a huge plus in my book that it is AAX DSP. Sadly very few reverbs supported on this platform.

Waves Abbey Road Plates

The digital recreation of the old and very, very famous Abbey Road plate reverbs. You can check the history and background of these gorgeous plates, how they worked closely with Abbey Road to catch the tiniest details of the original boxes. I can’t compare them to the originals, but this plate is just magic. Every time I use it it makes me smile. Somehow it almost always blends perfectly well with the material. My only negative comment would be that it eats unbelievably huge CPU power. Really, it’s that big of a CPU hog. Not to mention the fact that it is surely loosely optimised as it uses the CPU cores extremely unevenly. Once I had a conversation with Waves’ customer support and they seem to think that it’s fine this way. But hopefully their engineer don’t think the same. At least I’ve never seen any plugin properly coded and optimised using only one core at its extreme while ignoring that there’s another 11 cores would be available.

PSP 2445

It’s the newcomer, at least here. PSP made this based on the EMT 244 & 245 reverberator and all I can say is they did a pretty amazing job. This is also a plate you just insert on an aux, send some signal into it and it’s already sounding gorgeous. Additionally you can switch it to be solely the 244 model or the 245 or the combination of both. Not too much parameter to tweak but it has some under the hood goodies if you open the little box at the bottom of the plugin. While I really appreciate when companies make authentic emulations, the trend that they make it more clever with additional features that had never been available in the original is a great decision.

Eventide 2016 Room

It is an old-new love for me. The first moment I had the chance to try the original hardware I knew we would be great friends. And our friendship is stronger than ever. It is a perfect room if you want walls around any source or even if you’d wish to have bigger rooms for horns and percussion. The amazing thing is that it also works on strings. Honestly I know it’s not a plugin with a zillion parameter to adjust, but it really works. Works on any instrument in any genre. And it is really light on CPU which is a great thing when you’re mixing a huge score.

I don’t know the proper background but the thing is, these old reverbs, or the emulations of them many times seems to sit better in the mix. Reverb plugins became unbelievably great in the last few years, yet I often reach back to an emulation that is based on some old hardware. Maybe it’s because back then they’ve spent more time to develop one algorithm instead of rushing to release something, maybe it’s just my taste but for me one of the serious points in using or not using a reverb plugin lies in its ability to blend in the mix without tweaking it for 30 minutes. As you can see I’m in love with a few very new ones but also don’t want to uninstall the oldies as they really not only get the job done, but do it beautifully.

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Why do we need so many reverbs?

Without any introduction, here’s my current list of reverbs:

And this is a curated list as some others has been moved to unused for some time, but not necessarily permanently.

The question is simple, why do I or anyone else need this amount or even more? The answer is not so simple though. Yes, I know many times we can tweak a certain reverb to sound like some other, we can insert EQ, Dynamics and-or Saturation before or after the verb changing its sound. Automation is another thing that can make real difference as we can automate certain parameters to change the type of reverb or the tail multiple times in a song. Combining different reverbs can take you into even more interesting territories, honestly the possibilities are almost endless even if you only have a few different reverb plugins.

It’s a curse

If you don’t have a vision, multiple choices can easily derail the mix process and you find yourself endlessly searching for the best while loosing perspective. The other possibility is what you liked the first day may hate the next and change again on the third. Of course you might just find the best possible reverb for the material but more often than not it’s just brings you further away from the real solution.

Many times I see some purchase all the famous ones thinking that if all the big names use some of these than they must be good enough for the rest. But this kind of thinking is bad. The biggest names in the industry turns out to be very picky when it comes to reverbs. And for a good reason. They use what really works for them. It doesn’t matter if it cost 50 dollars or 300. If it not suit your taste, you can’t achieve what you want, it doesn’t worth your money. Note that it doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It only means that it’s not for you.

Don’t be a mindless collector. I mean it is so tempting to pull the trigger when you see the deals on forums and other places. It is easier to read some user reviews and believe it’s going to be just fine for you. And as I mentioned, it’s even more tempting to buy instantly when you see someone famous in the advertisement. But the point is until you tried it, until you’ve thoroughly tested and become familiar with its idiosyncrasies, there’s no way it’s going to be a good purchase.

One strange phenomenon can happen if you have too many choices. Many people think that having endless choices makes you creative as you don’t have any boundaries. But in reality it does the opposite. Ever been in a restaurant where the menu is way too long? Your brain suddenly can’t decide as it has too many choices and frankly many seems like a great choice. It’s the same with this. You won’t be more creative, actually you derail you vision while trying to pick the best from an enormous list. At the end you might have the best that really fits the project but you might as well lost the creative spark, the vision not to mention you wasted too much time and don’t have enough left to polish the rest of the mix.

It’s the best thing

On the other hand, owning many different reverb can be the best thing. For example if you know them well, know your favourites for certain things and have at least an idea where to start, then it’s great to have multiple choices. Some think that owning for example multiple plate reverbs is not necessary as they do the very same thing. But make no mistake, even rooms or plates can have quite different qualities. And most of the time it’s not that one is better than the other, it can be substantially different and that can be the recipe for success. Not all plates created equal or the same.

It’s very easy to test this yourself. Just make a test session with a snare and some other instrument samples. They can be short, mono or stereo. The main thing is that you need some reference samples and they need to be dry preferably. Make an aux where you instantiate the first plate you find in the list. Make it sound great on the snare for example. Then bypass that first insert, and do the same with the second one in the list, and do this until you tried all of your different plates. If you happy with all the settings, simply bypass and reactivate the different plates will deliver you amazingly different results. And this is still true even if you try to match them as close as possible. So having multiple choices even from the same type is not necessarily a bad thing.

And don’t deny, there are happy accidents. When you just insert one from the arsenal accidentally and it turns out to be the best choice. The funny thing is, this can happen with the default preset many times. Just throw it in and hear what it does. If the style is great, you might only want to tweak a few settings to get the desired result. Or just quickly change it to another one. While I love to have my own preferences sometimes it’s fun to really just experiment with different choices and surprise yourself.

If you are like me who love to save your own presets and many times have an idea what might work with the particular material you’re working on, then it’s absolutely the best thing to have a bigger arsenal so you have options. The key is to keep balance, it’s great to have preferences and presets, but it’s also vital to sometimes break free of the good old things and go wild without any preconceptions. By the way the wild experiments can lead you to your best ever presets later on.

So how many do we really need? The only thing I can say is: it depends on the person and the job. Probably if you tend to work on mainly similar material, you don’t need more than let’s say 3-5 different ones. But if you work in many different genres or in the film scoring world, you might need more than that. The solution is to forget the marketing materials from companies, forget the once-in-a-lifetime offers, forget what others use. Think about your own work and needs, make thorough tests and choose what really works for you.

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Consider it done… a positive experience

It’s only fair to vent if you mention the positive things when it comes to customer support. And honestly I like to spread these great experiences so everyone can vote with their money and support the companies who really care about their customers.

The other day I was setting up a score mix and decided to use Exponential Audio’s Nimbus as one of the quasi surround reverbs. I know it’s not available as a multi-channel plugin (not yet), but I thought in multi-mono it can still be a nice solution. However, I’ve found that it’s not available as a multi-mono plugin.

I didn’t know the reason so I wrote to Exponential Audio’s support to ask if this is intentional. They responded within 24 hours, actually read my mail because they already checked that it is really not there as a multi-mono and told me they look into it, it is a bug and they’re going to solve it.

Without too much praise, in my opinion, this is how a professional treat their customers and take care of his/her products. Again, Exponential Audio proved that they not only make some of the best reverbs in the plugin world, but they take their work and support seriously. If you don’t know much about them, go grab the demo, I’m sure you’ll end up spending some money there.

Wonder why do I have so many customer support stories? Because in my opinion simply venting and moaning on different user forums is not enough. We all should send bug reports, crash logs and experiences to developers so they can make the products we use better. Most of them welcome these. Those are the worthy ones.

And voila! This happened almost a week ago, and Exponential Audio already released the updates that cures the problem. What else a mixer could wish for? You can download the new releases here.

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We need to know who are the good examples

In this industry probably everyone has one or two horror stories about different customer services, but many of us have very positive experiences with some companies. In my opinion the good ones deserve the praise and it is important from time to time to broadcast our positive events to let everyone know who are these good guys in the business.

Plugin Alliance

plugin alliance

This is not the first time I contacted them. I use a lot of their products so sometimes I discover small bugs or have a question or feature request. Each and every time they react rapidly and the answer is never some marketing speech, they always focus on answering, solving my problem.

Apart from their excellent customer service they make great plugins.

Exponential Audio

exponential audio

Michael is always very responsive and he is a guy who really, I mean really cares about his products and the customers. I really hope one day we’ll meet and have a nice chat. I can’t praise him enough. It really doesn’t matter if you are only interested in something, have a problem or would like to pick his brain regarding reverbs for example, he’s there, helping, sharing his knowledge and serve his customers.

In my opinion he makes probably the best reverbs available today.

Avid

avid logo

I know, I know. But believe me, any time we needed something we got fast and expert help. Additionally the S6 developers are such great guys, they’re always open to new ideas and workflows. If you have some problem with your control surface most of the time you don’t even have to file a ticket, just write into the S6 forum and they’ll answer and help you out.

We might hate how Avid behaves as a company, we might not like what the business people at the top are doing, but believe me the talent in there is enormous and very helpful.

McDSP

mcdsp

What can I say? Fast, correct and helpful. Doesn’t matter what your problem is, they can and will help as soon as possible. I only mailed them maybe twice since I use their plugins, and within 24 hours I had the answer which was really a solution. With all the AAX DSP quality plugins they make, I can’t recommend them enough.

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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.

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