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Tag: sonnox

Preparing a live broadcast and record day 1

I thought it might be useful or interesting to see how we prepare for a live broadcast and record session here. This is the first day, which goes like this:

  • Make a Pro Tools session
  • check the session
  • save as a template for possible future use or refinement
  • mic up the stage (80 piece symphonic orchestra, 4 soloist)
  • soundcheck
  • refine the session and mix during the rehearsal

Pro Tools session

As I’m writing this, I’m already finished the Pro Tools session which comprise 60 mono tracks, 4 stereo tracks, 6 stereo aux sends, 4 stereo buses, 10 VCAs.
We have produce a live mix that adheres to the r128 standard basically. The refined specs for us for this even is to hit –23LUFS (+/- 1) with a TruePeak no higher than –3dBTP. Our studio not only produce the complete mix, but we record the multitrack and all the rehearsals, might come handy later if we need to fix some mistakes. Our mix goes to a HD OB van, supervised by LGM television as the finished product will be aired at Mezzo TV.

Let’s see the plugins I plan to use:
All input channels has a Trim and a Avid ChannelStrip inserted on it, later if I really need to go deep with something I might insert a few Fabfilter ProQ2 and/or some Sonnox Dynamics on a few. Usually the ChannelStrip is enough for the most part. The audio buses right now has the very same simple chain: 1 ProQ2 and 1 Sonnox Dynamics per bus. All bus plugins are set up, ready to process, but bypassed until I need them. The master section has the most complicated chain in this session. Note that although I have many plugins inserted, they all do small things, they are not there to solve all the issues. The first plugin is a ProQ2 followed by a Sonnox Dynamics, then a Avid ProMultiband, after that a Avid ProLimiter. On the master output I use an Izotope Insight to proper metering. For starter I use 3 stereo reverbs: 1 Exponential audio Phoenix reverb and 2 Exponential audio R2, one for chamber and one for hall.

Few words on plugin usage. The Trim and Channelstrip basically works as a conventional console, serving as board gain, eq, dynamics, nothing complicated. I like to use the ProQ2 and the Sonnox Dyn where more detailed process might be the solution. On the master bus all the plugins serve as a kind of final polish, no hard processing goes on there. If any of the master processors start to work hard, meaning I need huge cuts or boosts on the eq, or the comps start to attenuate too much, that means something wrong with the basic mix. The master bus is not the right place to solve these bigger issues. The hall and the chamber reverb is quite obvious. Although we have a fabulous hall here, sometimes we need to lengthen or reinforce the natural decay of the hall. The R2 seems to be a perfect candidate for this. It is interesting to note that I’ve tried to achieve a more natural result with the Phoenix verb, but the R2’s character seems to fit better for this. Probably the most interesting is the early reflection verb. Because of the picture we often need to go very close to the instruments, which is not the best thing to do in a classical concert. Apart from different mic techniques I generally use this early reflection reverb to add some depth, a touch of realness to the close miced signal. In the final mix no one’s going to notice it, but it really adds that depth what we need. Without it, every solo or close miced instrument tend to sound too sterile, too in-the-face which is very unnatural. I can’t praise highly enough Michael Carnes’ reverbs for the very sophisticated early reflection part, which by the way sounds phenomenal.

As I’m finishing this first piece, I’m ready with the session, saved a backup and a usable template session. I double-checked everything and the Avid S6 is ready to fly with the rehearsal. The surface for the whole broadcast-record is an Avid S6 M10 with 24 faders.

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Unofficial tiny limiter test

As I was in need for a really good limiter, I made some quick tests to find out which are the ones that can be trusted in various, often very hard situations. With very hard I mean 8–12dB of gain reduction. I know you probably raising your eyebrows and say stop right there, no one wants to drive a limiter that hard, but unfortunately in the real world there are some situations where you really need that capability. For example during a live broadcast or in some peculiar situation when you fold down a 5.1 or 7.1 mix into stereo. I don’t say that it always happen, but it does sometimes, and we can argue over the case for long weeks on different forums, the fact remains, you need high-quality tools to solve this problem.

With most limiters, even a small amount of gain reduction has detrimental effects on audio. Usually you notice this with as tiny as 2–3dB of reduction, and these types tend to break up around 5dB of reduction. In this case break up means they almost completely destroy your mix.

I had no time for a thorough test, so I decided to load up a session which contains music, dialogue, effects, sudden volume changes and very dynamic material.

First contender: TC electronic System 6000 limiter

We have multiple System 6000 units here, and while I really like the multiband compressor in it, I felt that the limiter side lacks clarity, and breaks up quite easily. To test this, I started with our default settings.

With 1–3dB of reduction it was ok, but I could clearly heard the nasty limiter sound at 5dB and it completely killed the mix around 6–7dB of gain reduction. While generally I think TC electronic makes great products, this limiter left me unimpressed. Even after tweaking, I couldn’t achieve a setting that was clean enough for my taste.

System 6000 Brickwall2

After the disappointment I decided that it is not a fair game, as in our default setup, the limiter is just an attached thing, but if I use the Brickwall2, that is a real limiter programme with its own engine.

tclimiter

And it is pretty obvious from the very first moment that this limiter is very different. I could easily limit 6–8dB without really serious damage. I heard some coloration, minimal nastiness of the limiter, but it was totally usable. However if you go over this line, it breaks up very fast. In my test at 10dB of reduction it just killed everything.

This experience gave me the idea to test a few native plugins. We can find many argument on the net that these boxes (digital outboards) still kill all the native plugins. So, let’s see what happened.

Sonnox Dynamics built-in limiter

First I fired up the Sonnox Dynamics with the Limiter section engaged. At first I absolutely hated what I heard even at 5–6dB of gain reduction. It was dulling the whole mix, destroying the dynamics. After some minor parameter tweak, it was able to perform a bit better than the TC Brickwall2. In my experience it handled the dynamics better. Somehow it just did not hurt the mix too much. Effect tails were preserved better and the stereo picture remained more authentic to the original one.

oxforddynamics

McDSP ML4000

I only tried the limiter section of it. To be honest it was the first surprise. I could easily limit 10–12dB and it was still reasonable sounding even with quite demanding material. It only reached the real nasty limiter sound at around 14dB of reduction, which is pretty dramatic to be honest.

mcdsp ml4000

It is a spectacular set and forget limiter that can handle very complex mixes with ease. Even when it starts to work hard it leave very little sonic footprint. Can be safely abused, one of my favourites.

Avid ProLimiter

The very last contender is Avid’s ProLimiter, which has a very nice metering built-in. I started with some easy part to see how it behaves at low reduction values, but it was so clear that I immediately decided to push it much harder.

I could easily limit 10–14dB without destroying everything. With careful tweaking, even 16, yes, 16dB was acceptable. Obviously at that reduction rate I could clearly heard the limiter working, but still, it somehow managed to sound like a limited version of the original.

prolimiter

Up to 6–9dB reduction it preserves the air and spaciousness of the mix very well, taming the transients carefully so it leaves very little imprint on the mix. Being a true peak limiter, if I had to choose only one, this would be my first choice.

Conclusion

Take this tiny test as a personal experience of mine. This was NOT a scientific test! Due to copyright reasons I could not post any samples.

For me the most interesting thing is how easily the native plugins killed the hardware version. It is even more revealing if you compare the price/performance ratio. I know it’s not truly a fair comparison, but still, if you think about it, with the native versions you have many channels of quality limiting for a much lower price. In my opinion, the external box is always better sentiment is dead and unfounded. Native become ubiquitous, which is the best thing could happen to this industry, as now we have many extremely talented developer producing better and better plugins.

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