Posts Tagged 'home studio'

Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro Headphones Review

DT-880 Pros are pretty well reviewed already –they’ve been around for a while, after all- so why should you read this one? Well, first of all it’s another opinion and, secondly, as far as I can find, no-one has talked about their suitability for house music production on the road using an Apogee One as an interface. I’ll assume that you’ve read some other reviews and product descriptions, so I’ll not repeat all of the basics and just concentrate on my experience with these headphones.

DT 880 Pro: Build Quality, Comfort and Appearance

Let’s start with comfort. Despite being a bit heavier than its main competitors, the Sennheiser HD650s and the AKG K701s, these are comfortable ‘phones. There isn’t too much downward pressure on the top of your head; the inward pressure feels reassuring, with a feeling of closeness without causing any discomfort, even after long listening sessions. The material used for the padding is smooth and soft, and doesn’t make your head too sweaty, which is always a bonus.

Appearance is pretty good too. The ‘phones come in a nice foam-lined zip up case and look the part. If I have any complaints, it’s that the cradles that support the cups look like a bit of a design afterthought, and the exposed cabling looks thin and fragile, but then, these headphones are cheaper than both the AKGs and the Sennheisers.

Build quality and potential long-term functionality is where I start to have issues. First off, the cable is non-detachable, being moulded into the bottom of one of the cups, so any wiring issues are going to be complicated to resolve, with higher repair bills, as described in this review. If I’m being honest, I don’t think any phones at this price point should have moulded cables, particularly those with ‘Pro’ in the name.

I’m also not sure about running that thin little cable from one cup to the other by tucking it under the detachable headband. Those cables seem very delicate, and I’m genuinely quite concerned about them snagging on something at somepoint, having them pulling out of the cups, and expensive repair bills resulting. Not sure that this feeling of breakability inspires confidence in a pair of working headphones. Compared with my Sennheiser HD555s, which were a third of the price, this cup to cup cabling arrangement seems poor.

The size adjustment is also a bit clunky, with the cup, brackets sliding back and forth in not a particularly smooth way. This is something I expect to be doing a lot of, as, with the ‘phones fitted to my head, putting them back in the case means that the moulded cable is at quite an extreme angle, and under a lot of stress, due to the snug fit in the case, so, to minimise that, I have to push the brackets back in again. Then, every time I resize, I’m concerned I’m going to catch the cables with my fingers.

DT 880 Pro: Sound

The sound performance is where the DT 880 Pros redeem themselves. These are the best ‘phones, from an accuracy perspective, that I’ve heard. The HD650s are perhaps more exciting to listen to, with the more ‘hyped’ bass response, but for critical mix decisions, I’d feel more comfortable trusting these; everything just seems more flat, and ‘egalitarian’ in the mix. Bass is low and extended, but feels well controlled. These are exceptionally good sounding headphones for the money.

Listening through an Apogee One after allowing a good length of burn in time, playing a variety of tracks showed this to be a good, reliable performer, from Alison Krauss to Maya Jane Coles, via KT Tunstall, Teenage Fanclub, Jacqueline du Pre and The Pretenders. I enjoyed the level of detail, accurate soundstage and the depth of the mix that was presented. Great performers.

DT 880 Pro: Deep House Production

So, the real reason for using these ‘phones, those late night deep house production sessions when using monitors is out of the question. After firing up Ableton Live 8, plugin 112 dB’s excellent Redline Monitor plugin into the master effects, I got to work. I can’t remember the last time I found it this easy to dial in a good kick sound. I usually layer two or three, and filter and eq to get them working together, then compress. I had a sound I was happy with in next to no time. Balancing and eqing my layered clap and snare hits was a breeze, and before I knew where I was, I had the bass sitting comfortably in a hole and, to me at least, a reasonably complete groove going on.

As I’ve discussed in a previous post, I would rather mix on good headphones than cheap monitors in an untreated room; these ‘phones have raised the bar as to what good monitors in a good room are. I can see myself spending a lot more time mixing on these, the level of detail available to make those critical decisions and hear those little distortions is fantastic. Combined with the Redline plugin, I really do have the confidence to make mix decisions on these.

DT 880 Pro: Summary

Well, the sound is spectacular, I feel happy mixing on these, and would much rather mix on these than speakers that are getting to a less than modest price point. The issue for me really is that feeling of delicacy, and, if there is a problem, a large repair bill. Despite the protective case, I can’t picture myself travelling with these ‘phones, which is a shame as it would be fantastic not to have to waste hours remixing everything when I get back to the studio. Unfortunately, I think I’ll stick to my K271 mkIIs for the road, even with their lack of bass response, purely as they feel more robust and have a detachable cable. Oh, and their closed back so I’ll annoy fewer people in coffee shops!

EDM: The Most Democratic of Arts?

If it was Slash who made me first pick up a guitar, it was Noel Gallagher who made me want to join a band. In a recent interview, Noel was heard to say “any f*cker can make dance music”. This quote led to some major activity on Twitter, with the consensus being that he was probably right, but that there is a difference to making dance music, and making good dance music, which is probably fair. Tim Exile put it well when he tweeted that “making dance music is the new gaming”. I have to say, I think it’s great; it means that electronic music is one step closer to becoming the purest, most egalitarian and democratic art form.

You can now have more studio power with a cheap PC and a Computer Music cover disc than The Beatles had. Even if you go back to perhaps one of the last big shifts in accessible recording, the Tascam Portastudio, you were still looking at a sizeable investment, particularly once you added microphones and effects units etc. Now, even with freeware VSTs, you can make some professional quality tracks. I spent significantly more money than I had on my Virus TI, but my freeware Juno and SH-101 still see frequent use.

Everyone has always had the ability to make music, even if that was just banging out a beat on a rock and a bit of old bone. Now though, nearly anyone can not only make music, but also record it and distribute it to the world. You’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty impressive step forward. The issue now though has become, not making your music, but getting people to listen to it.

I’m glad that electronic music production is more accessible. If you’re willing to put the hours in searching Soundcloud, you can find some outstanding tunes, some of the experimental electronica can be fantastic, but, for the dj, you might find that one track that differentiates you from the Beatport top ten-playing crowd…

This post first appeared as a news article for Now Then Records.

The Quick and Dirty Home Mastering Guide: Part 2

Okay, back to the home mastering: a rough and ready guide to making your mix that bit louder. If you caught the first part of this post, then you should have your mix ready as a wave file with some commercial releases ready for comparison. I’ll admit, I’m a bit nervous about this blog post, there are too many different opinions, many held by people who aren’t backward in coming forward in telling you that yours is wrong; all I can say is that this type of process has worked for me, hopefully it can get you going in the right direction too…

Step 1: Import your mixdown into two channels in your DAW. One of these is going to be the channel you process, the other is for comparison. Set your channel and master faders to 0 dB.

Step 2: Processing time. Insert a low cut filter first in the chain and set the frequency to about 25 Hz. After the filter, insert a parametric eq. This stage of processing is for any surgical corrections that you might need to make: any resonances or one-note-bass type problems where you might need to make some narrow, high-Q cuts.

Step 3: Insert a compressor. If you have a lot of compressor choices, I would be tempted to lean for something designed to be fairly transparent, rather than a ‘character’ compressor. Set the ratio between 1.1 and 1.2:1 and bring the threshold all the way down. This compressor should be working constantly and giving you a couple of dBs of gain reduction. If the terms for some of these compressor settings are unfamiliar, a quick internet search should tell you all you need to know; they’ll also be the subject of a future post.

Step 4: More aggressive compression. This one starts to become a bit more about your personal taste and will be quite dependent on your source material. You could maybe start with a ratio of about 2:1 and reduce the threshold until you get a couple of dBs of gain reduction. Start with the attack time at about 50 ms and bring it down, listening to what happens to the sound. Listen out for any loss of bass as a marker for when you’ve gone too far. If your compressor has an auto release setting, go for that, if not, then start with quite a long release time and bring down listening for any pumping sounds.

Step 5: The tone control. Here your just about the subtle tone shaping, just like the bass and treble controls on your hi-fi. Set up an eq with high and low shelving bands and start adjusting to taste. If you have a fingerprint eq you can use it here to dial in the general flavour of a commercial track in the genre.

Step 5: Limiting. This is where you add those extra dBs you want. Insert a lookahead brickwall limiter and set the output to -0.3 dB. Start to add gain and you’ll hear the track getting louder. It can be helpful to insert a couple of metering plugins after the limiter. The excellent TT Dynamic Range meter is an excellent plugin for seeing how much dynamic range your song has and for checking RMS values. Solid State Logic’s X-ISM plugin is very useful for checking intersample peaks to ensure you don’t clip any DA converters.

As you start to add gain with the limiter, listen for distortion of the low frequencies, the kick is a useful guide here. You’ll also want to listen for softening of transients; listen to the front end of snares and hats in particular. All the while flicking back and forth between the processed and unprocessed mixes to make sure every adjustment is improving the sound over your original, or at least is a good trade off of quality for the loudness you are after.

So, there we are, a quick and dirty guide that may provide a useful starting point to get your mixes where you might want them to be and that might bail you out when you need a mix sounding louder at short notice! I would still recommend the professional approach, but that might not always be an option.

Given the benefit of additional pairs of ears can have to your mix though, you could consider grouping together with other like-minded producers to master each others’ songs, it keeps things free and you can another opinion.

There are also a few other things that can be used for this type of finalizing process. Effects like tape saturation can sometimes help to glue the parts of a mix together, and you can also play with adding some low level distortion and high frequency compression to simulate that. Effects like exciters and stereo width enhancers can be used, but are best used sparingly, you don’t want to be trying to fix mix decisions at the mastering stage (and be careful about maintaining mono compatibility with stereo enhancement).

Okay, we’ll leave it there for now. Please leave any comments and tips you have for mastering your own tracks and hopefully we can make this a useful little resource.

Happy loudness maximising!

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