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Tag: HDX

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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The anatomy of a score mix #4

As previously we took a look at the various EQs I’ve used during this particular score mix, now let’s see the dynamics arsenal that helped me shape the final mix.

McDSP AE600

I know now you think I’m crazy because it was also featured in the EQ article, but this beast is also a dynamic EQ, and as such I think it fits in the dynamic processing category also. With this, you can selectively process different frequency bands with great precision. The main point of the dynamic EQ is that it only works when needed. If you cut or boost with a regular EQ, the chosen frequency will be altered continuously. But with a dynamic EQ, the processing affects the frequency range only if the signal is above the threshold.

For example I had a cue where the high strings were getting a bit harsh, instead of cutting with a regular EQ, I just set a dynamic band for them which treated the harsh frequencies only in the loudest parts, otherwise I left them as they were.

Avid channel strip comp section

The second plugin that got mentioned in the EQ part too. As you probably already know this, it is still the channel strip from the famous Euphonix console. The dynamics section is a workhorse, if someone would force me to choose only one plugin for a full mix I’d happily choose this as my all-around tool. One more positive thing is that it maps perfectly on the S6 surface, which is a huge plus in my book.

Avid ProCompressor

Probably one of the most underrated compressor in the plugin world. Actually it is a very clever and great sounding beast, offering a complete Swiss army knife feature set. With the multiple algorithms – smart being a truly smart one actually – , dry-wet, DSP support, clear and informative GUI it always has a place in my mixes. Honestly if you need a great all around compressor, you should consider this as a serious candidate. The algorithms are working truly well, I even use them to experiment and test things with it without inserting many different plugins. You can even listen to the part of the signal that is being affected (that is over the threshold).

Avid ProMultiband

Actually it’s two plugins but mostly people think this is merely a multi-band processor. Well, that is indeed a multi-band compressor with a great interface, with nice options to control your sound, but it also has a truly great part. That is it can split up your audio into different parts based on frequency. So you can split up the signal into different frequency bands adding your own processing for the highs, adding something different to the low-mids while applying a third approach when it comes to real subs. It is all up to you. Or this way you can create interesting parallel chains for different areas of the spectrum.

Softube TLA 100

A true classic with additional features. This is a real know-it-all type plugin. For the lack of a better term it’s really musical sounding even if you hit it harder than the normal. The additional dry/wet mix knob makes it an excellent choice for bus duties also. The other great add-on is the saturation knob, so we can control if it should be absolutely clean or not. I’m a huge fan of adding tiny bits of “analogue” distortion throughout the chain so sometimes I even you this only for the sound, without really using the compressor section.

Brainworx Bx console comp section

What can I say? It’s a Neve compressor with some clever add-on like, dry/wet, side chain HPF and most importantly with the sound of a real gem. Be aware of that it’s gain reduction meter is a bit strange, at first you might end up hitting the compressor harder than you would like to. But once you find the sweet spot, it’s gorgeous. Another thing you have to get used to is the buttons and their behaviour. If you’re familiar with some real old-school Neve gear, then there won’t be any problem. Otherwise it’s not rocket science but certainly requires a little attention here and there.

SSL channel strip comp section

I don’t think I can tell you any more good things about the old classics. Without further explaining my fanboy attitude, this thing just works. It’s really that twist the knobs until it sounds right. No secret sections, no big tricks, it’s mixing on a visceral level.

API 2500

In my opinion this is the king of bus compression. I fell in love with it the first time I’ve tried. The real deal is that this API truly works on any material from drums through electronic stuff to symphonic material. Do not miss the different possibilities this circuit offers. The thrust control, the ability to act like a feed-back or feed-forward type compressor, the unique partial and adjustable stereo link. In my experience if this is not working or doing harm to the sound, then there’s a 99.9% chance that the settings are wrong.

That’s it, although I have more dynamics processors than I can list here, I always use the ones I feel I need. Especially with compression you must be cautious, it is very easy to overdo it and kill the dynamics of your material.

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Modularity

Some of you probably know that I work for a company where modularity and flexibility plays a huge role in our workdays. Few years ago when we decided to upgrade to Avid S6 controllers we had to find a viable solution to integrate them into our existing workflow. This also means we had to implement things that make changing from one workflow to another feels easy and can happen within a few minutes.

Our Studer systems has been updated and maintained for several years but for many reasons we felt that to remain future proof and to be able to serve the enormous amount of work we need better solutions, yet without abandoning the old one. We achieved this with special roll-over-car for the S6.

Here’s a video sped up to show how one person can change to S6 within five minutes. Five minutes including putting the S6 into position, connecting all the necessary cables and booting up Pro Tools and loading the session. The video is only a bit over one minute:

Avid S6 roll over the Studer system. from Tamas Dragon on Vimeo.

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S6 module order

The Avid S6 is definitely the most flexible control surface available today. It is really like a nice Lego, you can have any imaginable module order you want, so now it is really you who define the way you want to work.

I’ve seen many different configurations and was fortunate to try a few ones. In fact, our two S6 systems utilised different module order. They are the same hardware wise, but one has the Process modules above the faders and then the Knob modules, while the other has the Knob modules above the faders and the Process modules at the top. With the help of the great RSPE Audio S6 configurator I can show you the two different layouts:

s6 knob at top

s6 proctop

The best order

The bad news is, there’s no thing as the best exist. But the good news is you can easily re-order them if you need them in another configuration or just decided that the current configuration is not really serve you well.

To rearrange a smaller surface you need approximately 15-20 minutes, for a mid-sized one you might need 30-45. For a really large one you might need 1 or 1,5 hours, but in my opinion it is still nothing compared what you gain from a great arrangement.

At first there’s a learning curve involved but believe me this surface quite soon become addictive. From that point you start to feel your real needs and start to discover what module order might serve you best. If you have a good reason, then change the order. As I wrote it before, it is not that hard to reconfigure the whole surface. My only advice is to spend some real mix time with any chosen configuration to really get accustomed to it. You might struggle a bit at the start so you need to use it for a day or two, then you can really decide if it’s for you or need some other config.

Options

As I mentioned above, one of our config was to have the process module right above the faders and the knob module at the top. This is a basic Avid config and it’s great. Right above the faders I could rapidly chose which process I’d like to use on the knob module. For a few weeks I felt home with this arrangement. Until I used the other one for more than a week.

At first it was somewhat confusing because I felt the original arrangement is more for me. But as soon as I delved deep into the mix I started to realise that I spend considerably more time tweaking the knob module. Of course it’s quite obvious as you only select the process, but then you tweak and re-tweak the settings multiple times. Actually a thousand times during a mix. During that week I was not only felt that it might be the better to have this module order, but I was measurably faster. Having all the controls above the faders was great both visually and to reach them.

After that week I decided we need to change the other to have the same module order. All I needed was 15 minutes of solitude.

S6 inside

Actually it took me only 10 minutes and I was ready to go. Since then I’m really enjoying this order and I think it’ll stay with me for a long time. But to be sure I had to test both under real demanding work.

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Common ground

In our studios it is a daily operation that you might record something in studio 1, but continue with the editing process in studio 2, while doing the mix in studio 3 just to return to final mix in studio 4, or back to studio 1. So in essence I always try to keep everything on the very same version. Meaning we have identical MacPros, with identical OS, Pro Tools and plugins. Everything is the same except the audio hardware.

With this session exchange and studio change never cause any problem. Some would say I might be overly cautious but in my experience this is the easiest and most convenient way to avoid any hiccup in the studio life.

While this is the theory, when we are prepared to upgrade, I always make that gradually so if anything happens we’d still have perfectly working rigs. The process goes like this:

  • upgrade on my MacBook Pro (only if I have no ongoing job)
  • upgrade the HDX system I mostly work on
  • only if everything is rock solid I dare to upgrade all other rigs

Basically I serve as a test person. But we have to record/edit/mix more than 200 events (concerts/tv/radio shows/film score, etc.) a year so downtime is not an option.

Mac Os Sierra and Pro Tools 12.6.1

Of course everyone wants to have the latest and greatest with rock solid stability, unfortunately that rarely, if ever happen to be the case. New bugs, plugin incompatibility, not Avid approved OS, you name it how many different thing can hold you back from upgrading. One simple advice though. Although user forums can be very helpful to gauge how stable a certain version is approximately, please never completely trust what you read there. Plethora of different configurations can have vastly different results, you can’t filter our user related errors, corrupted installations and any other unknown issue. Always test all versions on your systems. There’s really no substitute for this. I know it’s tempting to skip the tedious process of testing, but believe me, it’s not worth the headache later. One final advice which is so basic I shouldn’t even mention it: BACKUP before you install any new version.

From the first minute even on the test rigs Mac OS Sierra with Pro Tools HD 12.6.1 with S6 software 3.5 has been so fast, stable and error free that today I upgraded the remaining workstations to these versions.

Which, of course, means that again, all our studios are on the very same versions down to the last plugin you can find. This is the most peaceful state I can imagine. For now as we don’t need cloud collaboration yet, I uninstalled that feature as well as I immediately uninstalled the Avid application manager which is a fantastic idea but a very shoddy execution.

pt 12.6.1

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