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Tag: S6

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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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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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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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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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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