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Tag: dsp

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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M/S matrix in AAX DSP

Or as I like to call it, mission impossible: the missing link. It is not a overly complicated process, with some effort anyone can do it in Pro Tools with some clever routing and stock plugins. However, when you want to use in a huge session, or even worse, in a broadcast situation, it’s absolutely inconvenient.

Possibilities

Brainworx has a perfect plugin for this: BX control v2, which is a bit more than an M/S matrix but would be perfect for that also. That means you are not forced to use only the plugins that has M/S option, but rather you can decide what processors you’d like to use for the Mid and for the Side. All good, except this little tools is not AAX DSP yet. Brainworx has a plan to update it to AAX DSP but no definite time table exist.

ms matrix

So, here we are, with a simple process, without the possibility to use it with a DSP system. I think Avid could make such a thing, but the reason why I think Brainworx should do it, because they have a growing number of AAX DSP plugins, so much as they even offer a full AAX DSP bundle.

If you know something I missed, please tell me. Is there any AAX DSP M/S matrix available?

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More than a year with Pro Tools and S6

Maybe a bit late to summarise, it’s already 2016. To be honest though, the end of the year is not the end of the busy schedule so maybe even the start of this new year is just as fine to take a look back and sum up what was it like to use the Avid S6 controller with Pro Tools during many, many demanding production.

Early adopters

We are early, I should say very early adopters. It is because the launch of the S6 was perfectly timed to our bigger development plan. Although back then it seemed a bit bold to jump right into the latest-greatest control surface, we thought that just as with the Icon series, it must be something Avid really take seriously. We decided to purchase two M10 S6 controllers. It fit the budget, and our thinking was if it really is that great, later we can change the brains to M40, buy some additional fader bays and maybe even screen modules for even greater integration and comfort.

The other thing is, you can’t mention any other controller on the market which deliver all the points:

  • deep integration with Pro Tools and Nuendo
  • scalable and easy to make custom configurations
  • will be supported for many years
  • able to become smarter by every update
  • able to reach out to developers

We considered some other products from different manufacturers, but all failed quickly when we tried to check all points. I thought there was going to be a much tighter race, but apparently we had an easy time with the decision.

The first steps

When the huge package (actually lots of little boxes) arrived, obviously we couldn’t wait for another day, immediately started to assemble the controllers. We were all excited like the little child at Christmas day…

And after a few hours of work we had the first working Avid S6 in Hungary. The credit goes to my trusty colleague who assembled it all together while I was working on the MacPro and Magma cases. First it was a strange experience to see that to build a controller today, you might need more knowledge in computer technology than in audio. But hey, it was 2015, we knew it’s not an old analogue monster.

S6 brand new

I won’t describe every tiny thing in detail, all software installation went fine, without any issues, including the S6 activation and software update. The first test run was, of course, like magic. We were unmeasurably happy, I played with it like an amused teenager with his new iPad.

Back then the S6 was not that clever. The Icon series had more features, even the Artist series knew a few trick the S6 couldn’t even emulate. But honestly we put our trust in Avid. I know it may raise some eyebrows, but so far for us, Avid has been responsive and helpful, much more so than other competing companies.

The plan

The plan was ambitious, and probably a bit bold. As we have multiple studios in the building, serving a complete video department, the national radio and tv, commercial channels, foreign broadcasters, producing concert DVDs and CDs and mixing for web we wanted to have the S6 to be also used in live broadcast situations with Pro Tools.

Many told us that it’s simply a bad idea. Others told us that we must be on drugs, while some just thought we might missed our daily pills. Still, our aim was clear: use the S6 with Pro Tools in live and in post production.

To make this really efficient I made some templates that looked like a current digital console today, all channels had a channel strip, had some audio buses, 8 VCAs, and at least four effects. This was the basis for the more demanding and complicated templates. My thinking was to start small and try to expand on that foundation if that works. And, drumroll… it worked so fine that it even surpassed our expectations.

It was the time I still missed quite fundamental things from the S6 software wise. But I didn’t have to wait for long until Avid release the first big update for the controller, transforming the somewhat basic feature set into a much more promising one. I always tested the new versions in one studio, while the other was still on the older version for safety reasons. I follow the same precautions today, but frankly, so far every software update on the S6 has been almost perfect, didn’t cause any show-stopper things to happen.

S6 in action

We’ve some issues on the Nuendo side with PCs, but that might has to do something with our PC hardware configuration. It’s still nothing serious, but we have to be more cautious updating them. On the Mac side though, we never had a problem.

I must say, the attitude of the S6 developer team could be the best example before every company. They are really helpful, very encouraging about user input and it is evident that many of them is or was working professionally in some field in the music and post industry, because they really understand us and improve current things while introducing clever, great new features. Can’t praise them enough honestly.

The results so far…

So, after a bit more than a year, it’s time to look back and summarise our experiences.

Regarding the evolution, we’re very happy with the S6. So much so in the next few years we plan to expand our inventory, maybe swap the brain modules to M40s, plan to purchase screens, fader, knob and process modules, and have even more S6 in the studio department.

With Pro Tools Avid introduced the much debated subscription model. I won’t go into detail here, for us, as a corporation it is a good thing. For my own personal things, well, so far I think it’s good, but time will tell. We have seen rapid update cycle recently which suggest Avid has its momentum with Pro Tools, surely partly because they want to convince the user base to subscribe to their new model. If they continue to improve Pro Tools with the same speed and dedication as they did in the last 1 or 2 months, I’m sure everybody will agree with me that this new system is good for us. Although they introduced some features incredibly slow, I have to say the implementation of the new features are top notch.

And lastly, let’s see our statistics: during the last year we did more than 200 shows with the S6, many of which was quite demanding live broadcast events.

The usual workflow is to record all input channels, record stems if required, record a stereo or 5.1 master mix, while recording all automation (usually volume and send automation). So now, let’s see the results:

During this period, we didn’t have a single crash! Yes, you’ve read it right, NOT a single one (knock on wood…).

PT session

So contrary to the popular internet belief that Pro Tools is unstable, etc. it seems to me that is actually very, very stable and solid. Hope to be able to tell you even greater stories about this at the end of the year.

But now, Happy New Year to everyone, I promise you’ll read many great articles here in 2016!

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Need just a bit more DSP plugins

I confess I became a fan of DSP plugins, obviously in my case it means AAX DSP. Anyone who try to prove that there’s not enough of them is surely not surfing on the web, or try to deliberately avoid these plugins. Maybe it was a hard start, but now we have plenty of AAX DSP plugins, for many tasks we can even choose from different types and/or manufacturers.

And still, here and now I would like to ask more companies to consider coding their plugins to AAX DSP. I know there’s a plethora of different platforms to code to, but as even smaller companies started to do it, I see no reason why bigger or more popular ones don’t provide us users DSP versions of their plugins.

Maybe it’s not true, but in my opinion, the guys who’s invested into huge rigs are more willing to pay for the plugins than one man shops. As I see and experience it, one man shops only buy very few plugins, while bigger post houses, music studios buy more bundles with multiple licenses. Of course this is broad generalisation, but at least at this part of the industry, it’s true. So I think we might deserve a bit more attention.

And before you ask why I would like to have more DSP based plugins, well, this is why: my last mix almost ate a complete HDX2 hardware. I know native is powerful, but believe me, I tried, this mix would choke a pretty powerful computer, while it was going smooth with the DSP behind it.

hdx2

Plugin Alliance is good example. They have amazing plugins, some ported to DSP, some still only available in Native formats. As far as I know they’re planning to port all of their plugins for all platforms, but it takes time. Still would like to have some of their stuff in DSP format badly…

The other example, which is not so great in this regard is Fabfilter. I love their plugins, my favourite eq is their ProQ2, but I also in love with their Deesser. They make not only fabulous sounding tools, but their codes must be fine, because I hardly get any errors while I heavily use their tools during big mixing projects. In my opinion, they should definitely code their plugins to AAX DSP as soon as possible. They are very, I mean very popular not only in the music side of the industry, but also in the post side. I think they’d have an even bigger success if they would port their plugins to the format what holds the biggest share in this industry.

I know my opinion won’t change their minds, but I hope that somehow our prayer reach them and they consider a more active DSP porting process, or in other cases, they consider starting to code for AAX DSP.

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The decision

After the last post I made some more tests and researched my options even more. The emails and the comments helped me to decide which way to choose, the Native or the DSP. I really appreciate both comments and the 28 emails I’ve received recommending me different options, alternative plugins and very useful advises.

If I want to look at numbers 99% of the voters chose the Native path and only 1% recommended the UAD route. Everybody clearly expressed the pros and cons of both routes and now I really know my options very well. I know it looks too slow to make this decision, but this is very important for me and it is not a simple thing as this investment is made for many years not for a few days.

Native all the way

So, as you might guessed, the Native route won hands down. I leaned toward that path as it seemed more versatile and future proof, but your suggestions confirmed my findings. This is clearly the best route to go in my opinion too.

In the first run here’s what I already got:

  • Avid Pro Tools 11HD (upgrade from PT10HD) – not a plugin, but I love it
  • Avid ProLimiter
  • Audioease Speakerphone
  • Exponential Audio R2

A few others will come, but right now I’m very happy with this decision and want to thank you all who sent me an email or left a comment here on the blog.

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