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Tag: tc

The usual way vs. the old way

Recently we had a 3-day long live broadcast, and instead of doing it our way with Pro Tools and the S6, for various reasons we had to mix the 3 days through with a Studer Vista console and some outboard gear. Namely with a TC System 6000, a Lexicon 960 and a Tube-tech multi-band compressor. I know now some of you might be surprised that I call this the old way, but for me, for the last 1-2 years it is. Let me explain.

The new way for me

You might know that I mix many broadcast events with the help of Avid’s S6 and Pro Tools HD. I’ve got carefully crafted template so I can do whatever the production need, well-thought-out routing with multiple paths, audio buses, VCAs, effects, a stellar master chain at the end. I really invested serious time and tests to fine-tune the template so much so in the last year there wasn’t any occasion that I couldn’t solve something within a few seconds. In my opinion, working with the S6 gives you so many benefits, flexibility, speed and efficiency that once you really get familiar and comfortable with this way of working, you’ll never look back.

Some of the benefits of working completely in the box:

  • one complete system, you don’t have to set up many different equipment to be able to work
  • total recall in a second
  • one save saves all your data including presets
  • at the end of the day you’ve got detailed automation data recorded right into your session, meaning you’ll start the post production with a pretty good mix
  • changing, re-doing anything is fast and easy

Well, I admit that I’m biased, but keep in mind that my bias is based on real world experience, which I think is crucial in this industry.

Lexicon

The old way of doing things

So, the old way, which I treat with kind of a nostalgia. I still love it, but definitely think that it has its drawbacks. I’d never say it’s a bad way of working, I mixed more than a thousand shows this way. I still dearly love it, though really prefer the new way if I had to choose.

The equipment used to mix this broadcast is some of the best available. I won’t argue over gear preferences and fetishes here, I think anyone can agree on that the Studer console, the TC and Lexicon effects and the Tube-tech is world class, if anyone can’t mix on these, he won’t be able to mix with anything else either.

The first thing I had to re-realise is that you need much more time to set everything up properly. While it’s easy to instantiate a plugin in Pro Tools, if you insert something on a real console, you need to check the routing and if the inserted equipment working properly. Then, obviously you need to set up the gear you just inserted into the chain. This might seem too obvious, but think about it for a second. This means you leave a certain type of system, do your thing on a maybe very different one, then come back to continue your work on the console. This essentially means that you have to operate possibly widely different menu structures with different methods, workflows, not to mention you have to save your presets on many different locations. This is not dreadful of course, but definitely makes your day go slower. And this is even more true if you want to change something.

TC system 6000

So, in my opinion, these are the drawback of this method:

  • longer setup times
  • harder, or longer change if something needs to be changed
  • much longer recall time
  • the necessity to save at different stages on different equipments
  • the lack of unified backup
  • the lack of recorded automation
  • the lack of flexibility
  • number limitation (you can’t have 12 Tube-tech or 20 mastering grade compressors for example)

The experience

With all that said, I thoroughly enjoyed mixing and doing things the “old” way. As I said earlier maybe it’s part of a strange nostalgia, and the always exciting outboard patching and tweaking. From time to time it’s great to work like this, but as I wrote this I realised that I couldn’t really go back and work like that all the time. I prefer the speed and flexibility that technology gave us.

Both methods has advantages and disadvantages and I’m not here to decide which is the absolute best because I think there’s no such thing exist. Both methods can lead to excellent result. For me, I choose the new way.

 

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Screwing on

This pretty much sums up my last few days. It’s never easy to rebuild something, integrate new technology in a way so older things and workflows remains the same as before.

Planning, screwing, moving up and down, checking the ventilation, re-examining patches, installing software and updating firmware.

Almost ready, but still has lot to do. Next week I’m going to have a busy week mixing, so only a few days left to finish everything. Exciting times.

While we build and test everything, I think I’ve found a bug in the Avid S6. This is our second S6 install, and the metering simply doesn’t work at all. It’s almost identical to the first install, the only difference is this is an HDX2, the other is HD Native. Otherwise both has the very same type of Mac, softwares, etc.

So far I’ve tried to:

  • Trash prefs & databases
  • Switch Eucon on & off
  • Quit and restart the WS control app
  • Restart both the Mac and the S6
  • Re-update the S6 modules
  • Changing the playback engine

If I’m going to have time, I might try to reinstall Pro Tools. Right now I don’t know what can cause this. All things are supported, only approved software has been installed.

rackroom

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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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