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Tag: plugin alliance

The anatomy of a score mix #3

By popular demand, let’s take a look at the plugins in the session. As you can imagine there’s plenty of different brands and types represented in this mix. I admit that sometimes I suffer from plugin fetish in a way that I fall in love with some and maybe use them many times, but try to actively control myself in this regard.

During the mix I have the luxury to use both AAX DSP and AAX Native plugins as I don’t need to overdub right into the supersession. If we need some additional recording then I prepare another rec session instead of dealing with this huge monster. It would not only be extremely hard to do everything in the supersession during recording but would put immense burden on the recording machine too.

Let’s see the plugins divided into different categories.

EQ

Probably the first one will raise some eyebrows, but I still use it and actually like it. It is very reliable even when you automate the hell out of it.

EQIII

Yes, the old built-in EQ in Pro Tools, available to anyone. It’s versatile, trusty and requires virtually no DSP or CPU power so if you can have zillions of instances.

Avid Channel Strip

This is also a very good choice, a huge plus is it maps on the control surface almost perfectly. Honestly I could mix a whole score only with this. Don’t get me wrong I still love some other EQs, but I’m happy to use this anytime.

BX console

It’s a beautiful Neve emulation and a very good one in fact. Even if I only use the equaliser part of it, I often have it at certain places just for the sound. This EQ always make me smile, it’s smooth and for the lack of a better term, it’s always musical sounding no matter what you do with it. I don’t use it for surgical stuff but for general ‘console’ EQ. Also maps great on the Avid S6.

Maag EQ 4

I really rarely say this, but this thing is magical. Although by today’s standard this is not a flexible tool as it doesn’t offer variable frequencies. But frankly, it is still one of my all time favourite tone shaping instrument. Even half a dB can make huge difference and the Air band is amazing.

Waves API 550

The 550 B and A also falls into the emulations category, and I confess I’m in love with them. For me, these pieces just works. It doesn’t matter what the application is, you can be sure about that if you insert an API on it, it’s going to sound awesome. It has fixed frequency bands, but the bands are overlapping so it is possible to achieve anything you want.

EMI TG 12345

Yes, I know, another vintage emulation… But believe me, they offer vastly different vibes and sound. These oldies are somewhat limited when it comes to features, especially when you compare them to the newcomers, but they still has some very special magic you can’t really achieve with the modern tools.

SSL EQ

I know this is a big fetish in some circles, and for a very good reason. This is for me a very liberating tool. Just insert it, twist the knob and enjoy the result. Not saying that I’m thinking too much when using any other EQ, but this one always makes me smile.

McDSP AE600 Active EQ

This is a very special one. As this masterpiece can be a spectacular EQ and a Dynamic EQ at the same time. I use it for cleaning up things and for general tone shaping. It also sits on all the stems. As much as I love vintage emulations, this EQ offers all the flexibility you’ll ever need. It has 6 fully overlapping fixed and active bands and you can choose from many different curves depending on your needs.

Well, believe it or not, that’s it, I’ve used these EQs during the score mix. I know many think that using these vintage emulations are useless because you can achieve the very same thing with a flexible and modern tool as are able to have many different curves. I won’t say that sometimes it’s impossible to almost or completely match the curve of a vintage EQ. But! And this BUT is bigger than you’d think. The main point here is to achieve what you want rapidly without overthinking and without loosing perspective. If you start to be an engineer with a white lab coat analysing and reproducing different special curves, you surely won’t have a great mix. This is the reason why we still love and use these emulations.

In my opinion during a mix the bottom line is to use any tool that helps you achieve the result you’re after. Different EQs leads to different results and mixing is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Use whatever you like, use it wisely and trust your ears.

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Experiences with the Bx_console

Last week was the first time that I’ve thoroughly tested the Brainworx bx_console. As you probably all know, it’s a Neve VXS console emulation with one very interesting twist that is called Tolerance Modelling Technology. As Brainworx states that basically means they’ve modelled all the channels instead of only one, so they built in the analog components’ variations you’d find in a real console. Although of course all manufacturers try to keep everything as perfect as possible, there are certain tolerances between analogue components as nothing is completely perfect and this is even more true when it comes to older gear. This plugin includes these differences.

Make it even more clever

But “simply” modelling the console was not enough for the team, they made the original thing more clever than ever. There’s some inherent noise in the original which can be easily switched off in the plugin. Also parallel compression is easy within the plugin with the small mix knob. They improved the HP/LP filter section, we can swap the order of EQ and Dynamics. These little and not so little things can make our mix life so much better.

I truly love this new era of plugin emulations where a company not only capture the original hardware and code it into a plugin, but adds certain features that are really useful in real life. This is why we need real audio guys around the geeky coders because this is where engineering meets art and practicality.

Build a console

To really hear and feel the possibilities of this channel strip I decided to virtually build my Pro Tools session as a Neve console so every channel has one instance of the plugin with different channel inside to truly test the new TMT thing.

Only the audio subgroups and the final mix master had different processing. I made my own default preset that has no gate, the compressor is active but works only from -14dBFS if needed, eq flat, noise off.

Just a quick note. I applaud Brainworx for supporting the AAX DSP platform so it doesn’t matter if you use and HDX or a Native system, you can freely and interchangeably use this channel strip. The other huge plus is that their Eucon implementation is great! It’s very convenient to use it with the Avid S6. All the controls are mapped properly so even though it has a nice GUI you don’t see that most of the time because adjusting the parameters from the S6 feels natural.

The sound

Well, this is the hard part. To convey the whole experience, what I experienced, heard and felt during the test period. I only had very little time to test the TMT technology alone, but I feel it adds some intangible thing to the sound, you’ll perceive it’s there in depth rather than tone. It’s very, very subtle so anyone expect to hear those huge night and day differences will be disappointed. This is why I intentionally used the word feel. It’s definitely there but I don’t think there’s a proper term for it to describe what it does sonically. Truly the best way to appreciate it is to use it during a mix and then play the mixed material with and then without it. I liked it so much I saved a template with a full Neve console where every channel has a different number inside the channel stip.

Many times there’s an argument that you can recreate these EQ characteristics with a basic built-in EQ so these vintage emulations are rather useless pieces. Well, I’m here to disagree with this. I mean yes, there’s this possibility. If it’s very easy to recreate your vintage emulation with a built-in EQ, then you know you shouldn’t buy that emulation. This time I really tried to match the Neve curves with a few clean processors and I failed miserably. Sometimes I felt that I got so close but as soon as I tried to A/B the two it was obvious that I’m still far away from it. The key is that this is a real Neve console emulation and it reacts differently, it’s not a clean stock EQ. You can experience this if you really mix with the bx_console. I deliberately ignored the parameters during the mix, just did what I felt sound good and enjoyed the process. It turned out that I used bigger cuts and boosts than I thought. For example with a surgical, clean digital EQ I might cut 1-2dB at 2.3kHz, but with this channel strip it was 4-6dB at the same frequency. The same goes for boosting things. Most of the time I wasn’t shy to boost 4-6 or even 8-10dB and trust me it sounded spectacular. For me this is one of the main differences. You can be brave and nothing bad will happen, trust your ears here.

All in all you might get close to recreate these curves with some other processors but in my opinion it is a useless exercise. Why would anyone spend considerably more time to get in the near ballpark when you can reach THE SOUND in a second with this?

I’d been testing this on very delicate symphonic material where many different processors tend to show their weaknesses but bx_console really shined there. It’s very interesting that this EQ is almost never get nasty. The cuts are not surgical but effective, the boosts are gently shaping the overall sound without the obvious feel of EQ usage.

The second thing I fell in love with is its dynamics section. It’s a very versatile piece but this time you have to be cautious because it’s very easy to overdo things. My advice is to first use a signal generator to understand the threshold values. It works a bit differently than the usual ones. Once you get accustomed to it you can delve into it. This is the section where I feel the guys at Brainworx really did a great job adding more features. Without these, it’s a nice compressor but many times a bit too aggressive for my taste. But, additionally we have the high-pass section and the wet/dry knob. With the help of these it can be a real trusty weapon that does not change the characteristics of your source.

My favourite default setting is to have the dynamics high-pass section at 100Hz and use the wet/dry at 80% wet. Other favourite wet/dry ratios are 70% wet to dry and the 50/50. With these you are able to carefully choose how drastically you want to control the dynamics.

I’d like to emphasise something because if you simply want a vintage Neve emulation for the sake of having the “Neve hype” plugin then be prepared for a terrible disappointment. The original console is considered as a quite natural sounding clean device. It’s not a 1073!

What you get is a very subtle real analogue sound that actually behaves exactly like if you were using a desk for mixing. Except the hurdle of maintaining a real monster and paying the electricity bill. Not to mention the fact that this includes total recall capabilities and improved functions.

I highly recommend to use this channel strip in many cases to get used to its idiosyncrasies. As I already mentioned above, the threshold might feel a bit odd at first, the high and lo-pass filters are not what you might expect from a general digital EQ, as well as you need to get used to the fact that you may boost or cut bigger amounts than you think you should. But once you really start to feel how it really works, you’ll start to feel how fun is to just twist the knob and achieve great sonics without overthinking the whole process. I honestly highly recommend you to check out the bx_console if you haven’t done that already.

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Marathon

This weekend we’re going to have a Brahms marathon. From about 10 at the morning till 10 at night we’ll have 11 concerts. From piano pieces through clarinet quintet to the great symphonies. This definitely sounds interesting, but not only because we love Brahms, but it is also exciting technically.

Preproduction

We have to consider all the various needs of the different crews. We have the three separate crews from the National Radio, three video crews and our main crew. Why so many? Because the whole act will be broadcasted live through the Radio and online. All the concerts. Besides that we record everything (obviously).

The National Radio uses a Studer Vista 8 console and another very old vintage Studer for the interviews. All the video crews will receive sound from us as we mix live from two studios. As we already did it like this last year, the two main rigs will be a Pro Tools HD 12.6.1 and a Steinberg Nuendo 7. Control surface will be the Avid S6.

As you can guess at this scale we need serious backups. Two Joeco MADI recorders and one Pro Tools and one Nuendo will serve as safety backups so both stages has its own main rig and double-backup just in case.

All the complicated routing is going through the DoTec MADI router which has its own backup. I think we don’t use any equipment without a proper backup that day.

Templates

As we receive all the technical details a few days before the live broadcast we make master templates in every workstation. This way no matter who’s going to mix a particular concert, everyone knows where to find things. At this scale you simply cannot let chaos prevail.

This year I thought we might have the chance to do a very interesting experiment. In Pro Tools all the channel strips will be the Brainworx bx console which is a fantastic Neve emulation. Basically I built a “Neve console” inside Pro Tools. First I modified the default preset. No gate, compressor is active but start to work from -10 dBFS with a 2:1 ratio, eq is engaged but flat, lo-pass off, high-pass engaged at its lowest setting, noise off.

I took the time and set up the whole session like if it was a real console, all channels have different channel numbers in the Neve emulation. If you are even remotely familiar with this old console, it’s a pretty clean console with gorgeous filters. I already tried it on a few different sources, but now I think the time has come to really experience what this channel strip emulation can offer when we really use it as it is intended to be used. Let’s hear if the new Tolerance Modelling Technology has that intangible plus sonically.

All the input channels goes through at least one audio subgroup, then from that particular group all the audio groups routed to a sum bus. All instrument mics goes through at least one audio subgroup and the sum group except the audience and announcer mics, those directly goes to the final mix group. With this I can separately adjust the balance between the orchestra, the audience and the announcer. Although everything is planned properly usually life always entertain us with some unexpected surprises. That’s why I planned separate groups for everything.

The audio subgroups has the very same processing:

After those there is a final master processing chain:

The Active-fixed EQ is our housekeeper, removing any nasty frequency build-up or resonance, maybe subtly adding a tiny amount where needed. The TLA is really there for very soft massage, just kissing the needle or as we say “slowly nodding a bit” and even that is with 50-50 dry-wet ratio. The Brainworx is doing some M/S magic and a little mono-maker helps too. The Vertigo is optional, sometimes it’s the real magic dust, sometimes it just stays there in bypass. The Maag EQ is one of our favourite tone shaper while the API 2500 is my first choice for 2bus compression. The ProLimiter is there as a true peak limiter and has a fantastic metering so no other 3rd party meter is needed during the mix.

It might seem too much but keep in mind that these plugins are are doing very little things. But I decided I rather put them into the template than try to improvise during the rehearsals or the live broadcast. With this there’s no situation you cannot solve easily.

The effect chain has been selected to serve every possible need. Those are tried and tested. The room is the Eventide 2016 Stereo room, the plate, the chamber and one hall is made from Exponential Audio’s Nimbus, and the last hall is Exponential Audio’s R2 reverb.

Here’s the simplified structure of the session:

session structure

This is the first time I try to mix with a console emulation live so now I check and practice the Eucon mapping daily to get accustomed to it. The beauty of a proper control surface is that you become much faster because of muscle memory. There are still some black spots but it seems that the Bx console is nicely mapped. One tricky spot is its dynamics section as you have to learn and feel the threshold, but once you get familiar with it, it’s great.

Of course, all the mixes must adhere to the latest EBU standard with a target loudness of -23LUFS, while the online broadcast is going to be at -18LUFS.

I hope everything is going to be flawless with this much preparation. Wish me luck.

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Gala for the Olympics

Today we have a big gala, which is a live broadcast event for us. As we’re getting closer to the Rio Olympic Games, these big events start to pop up everywhere. This one is going to be the official oath taking ceremony.

The show

The easiest and most obvious thing is that we’re going to have two speakers on stage whose job is to announce the ceremony, ask the celebrities to come to stage to speak, and announce the band who will perform a few songs. From this perspective it seems quite simple.

We’re going to have 5 band during the show with different needs.

Probably the flow will be something like this:

  • speeches
  • first band
  • introduction of the celebrities
  • second band
  • speeches
  • third band
  • politicians speeches
  • fourth band
  • short film about the upcoming olympics
  • fifth band
  • end

Let’s see this whole thing from a technical perspective. The live sound part of the show is given, I won’t go into detail with that. For us, the interesting thing is the broadcast part.

Technical background

The whole show will be mixed in Pro Tools HDX2 live with an S6. The basic template comprise of 128 inputs, all mixed down to final stereo which must be compliant to EBU R128 loudness standard. The OB truck receives our stereo mix and sync it with picture.

Sounds simple enough. I’ve got a well worked out template, so in reality it won’t be so complicated. Every band will have its own audio group and VCA master. So I have the ability to process them differently through their own audio group, but at the end I can easily have control over them the VCA masters. This is important because with this method I only have 8-10 faders at the end, which is much more easy to operate than to have 24 or more different types.

So my final MasterMix Layout looks like this:

  • Band 1
  • Band 2
  • Band 3
  • Band 4
  • Band 5
  • Speeches
  • Atmo
  • FX
  • Sum
  • Master

The combination of VCA spill and Layouts will give me the flexibility to reach anything in a second if I need to. For safety I have one Layout for each band, one for the Atmospheres and speeches and one MasterMix which shows me all the VCAs and other necessary groups and the individual mics for the announcers. The Sum group is there for various reasons. One is being a great place for overall level adjustment, the second is to have an easy control point during the live broadcast. Because all the band groups will go through the Sum, but none of the audience mics or announce mics. With this, I can easily level or remove all the performers from the broadcast while still have the announcers and the audience.

Of course, under the hood there’s many more things going on, but here’s a very simplified pic of the routing:

Signal flow

How it all goes

We have one full day for doing all the technical preparations, soundchecks and at the end of the day we have a full rehearsal. The next morning we have a short rehearsal, a final check and then we go live with the show.

While I record everything into Pro Tools, along with the audio the automation will be recorded too, so after the show I’ll have a complete mix with all my moves in the session. So if I need to correct something, it only takes a few seconds to make some adjustment. While our rigs are very stable, we still use multiple backups. One full backup is a Nuendo 5, the other is JoeCo Madi recorder. All running parallel to Pro Tools.

S6 during the rehearsal

Plugins used in the session:

  • Avid HEAT
  • Brainworx BX console
  • McDSP AE400
  • Maag EQ4
  • Softube TLA 100A
  • Brainworx Millenia TCL-2
  • Brainworx bx digital V3
  • Avid ProLimiter
  • Exponential Audio Phoenixverb
  • Exponential Audio R2

At the end of the first day, I can tell you that all the rehearsals went fine, I’ve got everything as it should be. Double-checked all my routings to make sure I won’t fall into my own trap. The fun starts tomorrow.

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Plugin purchase #5

The fifth plugin is something special for me as this is, in my opinion, the par excellence bus compressor. So be warned I’m really biased. I love the plugin as much as the original hardware.

Meet the Millenia TCL-2

millenia tcl 2

If you are looking for that vibey, coloured compressor than stop reading, this is a very clean one with subtle character. It’s a twin topology opto compressor/limiter which can be the intangible sheen on the master bus that you don’t even recognise it’s in the chain until you bypass it.

The original hardware is already an excellent unit, but Brainworx managed to made it even more clever.

tcl2 ms option

In the plugin version we have MS option which is my favourite thing to have. If you deal with many stereo material you must try it!

tcl2 wetdry

The other very useful and clever thing is the Dry-Wet capability. Parallel compression built-in. With these extra features the already spectacular plugin becomes an incredibly powerful tool.

I suggest to try out the presets as they are really good starting points and you can build your very own favourite settings from these easily. Well, everyone has a fetish bus compressor, this is mine.

As it is almost natural from Plugin Alliance, the TCL-2 is AAX DSP which is a big advantage in my book.

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