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Tag: waves

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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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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New old friend

Only had a few deep breaths at the start of the new year I took a little time to test some new plugins, revisit some old ones testing against the newcomers. Since virtually every company offering at least 14 days demos anyone can really try if the plugin is up to the hype around it or not.

Proven methods

Of course the testing process goes as usual, going through many genres of music, loading up sessions from small to big, from jazz through pop to film scores. I don’t really like one-trick ponies. I like plugins and hardware that can be used in a variety of ways and able to perform in more than one demanding situation.

The other things is, in this regard I’m quite stubborn. I don’t care about user or even very famous user reviews, blogs or forums, I have to try and it must work for me before I purchase. I recommend the same to everyone. Don’t take anyone word for it, because it might work for one and not the other. Forums and blogs and reviews are good for a compass, but never ever trust them for the final decision.

For the first few days I tested dynamic processors, bus compressors. First I read some blogs and forums to sort get an updated picture of the latest and greatest, then decided myself what to try. Downloaded a few demos from Plugin Alliance, Fabfilter and Waves and started with a moderate session to hear which ones I like in the first round.

Using different genres really helps to eliminate the ones you could only use for one purpose. It is really amazing how easy to reveal any shortcomings with this method.

The new old friend

Fortunately I had the chance to use the original hardware, the API 2500 compressor. When we first met, it was an instant match. I’m sure every engineer has these eureka moments, when you instantly feel like if that piece of gear or software was made for you. This compressor is surely for me. Without any prior experience with it I found many good settings, within seconds I could use it for many things.

api2500 meter

This sparked the idea to try it plugin format. I won’t go into any debate whether it’s a dead on emulation or not, the fact is, it is damn close which is enough in my opinion. I think it’s so good that if you can’t get the sound from the plugin, you won’t have the sound with the hardware either.

What is exceptional in my opinion is that it’s not only good for dynamic material, but equally nice on more mellow things, even on symphonic material with the right settings. Can be coloured but also able to subtly massaging the master bus. The famous thrust switches and the option to use it as old (f.back) or new (f.forw) type compressor also adds another dimension to it. The link section even further make this beast useful. Not only the shape, but the L/R link option can be fun to play with and believe me when you hit the right amount, it can be pure sonic magic. Although it only has 3 options when it comes to knee settings, but during usage you can find just the perfect option in seconds.

thrust api

In hardware format it is still a pricey piece, but I think in plugin format it is not that unreachable thing today. At least I fall in love with it, again, but now in the digital domain.

api2500 full

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reFuse Lowender vs. Waves Lo-air

Two subharmonic synthesizer plugins, from two different companies, with diverse parameters, but both due to one aim, to create real powerful bass. This type of processing is very ubiquitous in post production, because if it’s used subtly, it can create real sense of power, or earth trembling explosions, huge ground shaking monster steps.

Both plugins are cheap, so the real question is: which is the better one? One more note before the introduction of today’s “guests”. Don’t confuse them with some other type of processing e.g. what Maxbass does, it’s entirely different. While Maxbass creates frequencies higher than the original, it can make the bass more audible on little speakers, or create the feel of a more powerful bass line, Lowender and Lo-Air are creating new frequencies under the original content, hence the name subharmonic synthesizer. They are the same only in one trait i.e. if there is absolutely no low frequency information exist in the source material, neither of these plugins will work.

Lowender

ReFuse software’s subharmonic monster uses a little more parameter than one would expect for this task, but fortunately everything is there with a reason. At the time of writing this post it’s 69$ so it’s a really affordable piece. It’s available in VST, RTAS, Audio Suite, Audio Unit, and as the website declares, AAX native format will be supported later on, but AAX DSP is unlikely.

The controls are logically organized, they make sense even without reading the manual. The plugin is very cpu efficient, it won’t cause any trouble if you use many of it in an FX session.

While it’s very easy to use and actually works great in most of the situations, during my test I felt that it’s somewhat hard to use it subtly. You have to be vigilant, or this little “sub-monster” will overwhelm your effects or mix instantly. The bass gate function is very nice addition, while in my opinion the range parameter (classic, guitar, bass) is a little ambiguous, you have to experiment with it to find the right one for each task. Maybe it’s just me, but in many occasions, the best setting didn’t really made sense. It’s not a big deal, just maybe it is harder to connect e.g. an explosion with the guitar setting, or a horse with the classic.

The bass output section which comprise the drive and the low pass settings are very useful, a really nice touch.

Pros:

  • cheap
  • good sound
  • diverse parameters

Cons:

  • some parameters are ambiguous
  • little hard to use it subtly

Lo-Air

Well, I won’t introduce the company as we all know them for eons already. I must confess, I’m in a love-hate relationship with Waves. They have many plugins that I love, and many which… is not really for me…

The Lo-Air is very affordable too, as at the time of this post is only 49$ in native format and 75$ in TDM format. The interface is easy, with fewer parameters than Lowender. In surround mode, we have a few more options which is useful. But what about the sound?

Well, it’s very good. Though it has less buttons to adjust, the sonics don’t suffer. It’s able to create very powerful rumble in a second. Also it can be subtle if needed. The align button synchronizes the direct signal with the generated one, which sometimes a very good thing. What is really obvious is that it’s an easy-to-use plugin.

Though it does the very same thing as Lowender, in my experience, it’s somewhat more easy to fine-tune the subtleties. And not because of the lack of esoteric parameters. In my tests Lo-Air required less tweaking to get the results.

Pros:

  • great sound
  • easy to use
  • additional surround options

Cons:

  • maybe WUP?

Conclusion

Don’t hit me, but it’s really up to you. Both are very good plugins, and sonically they are perfect for a wide variety of jobs. However, I felt that Lo-Air is more easy to adjust if you’re like me, who loves real subtle things. This – obviously – does not mean that Lowender isn’t capable of such subtleties, but it might require more attention and time. One more plus is Lo-Air has better metering as well as nice additions in surround mode. All in all I feel that this time, Lo-Air is a little better option.

a little example, which is not really subtle…:

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