Posts Tagged 'studio'

Testing Times

I read a lot of reviews of audio tech products, synths, preamps, compressors, EQs, software and hardware and the reviews I read are generally incredibly thorough. Boutique outboard is dismantled to check build quality, given the Windt Hummer test to check for potential ground loop problems and distortion and bandwidth figures quoted; and that’s all in addition to how it sounds. There is little to complain about in terms of detail.

However, is that review sufficient to make a purchasing decision? A lot of these reviews seem to lack one critical component: a blinded scientific comparison between the product under review and its competitors. I know this would add complexity to a review: it would take at least two people for a start, and other pieces of gear may not be available for comparison, but I think this type of test would really allow people to make better informed purchases.

For example, when I read a review that describes a new digital converter as, let’s say, producing ‘an open, clear sound with good separation of individual instruments and excellent stereo imaging’, I would have more confidence in that statement if the reviewer was able to tell this unit apart from its competitors, or perhaps cheaper competitors, in a blinded test.

I remember reading an article in which a number of top engineers took part in a ‘shootout’ between D/A converters, there was no clear consensus on one unit in particular sounding ‘better’. Unfortunately, these were all high-end units; it would have been very interesting if some prosumer and consumer-level converters were also included. Would the golden ears be able to choose between Apogee and M-Audio, or Prism and MOTU? I wonder, though, if perhaps the industry might be scared of the results.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the sound, and that is often highly subjective. Given that the end product is more commonly delivered as compressed mp3s, rather than CDs or vinyl these days, perhaps the arguments about squeezing every last sample of quality from the studio is less relevant now than it used to be. I’ve not heard people in the clubs complaining that the bassline is from a soft-synth rather than a MiniMoog, so perhaps I’m worrying over nothing…

Update- For the Price of Cheap Monitors

After writing the aforementioned blog, I came across a post in the IDMf site, which reminded me of an article I had seen in Sound on Sound magazine (my go to source for all things audio tech). While looking searching for the article I was sure I had seen and not just imagined, I came across these two articles:

Should I mix on high-end headphones or low-end monitors?

Mixing on headphones

And thought that, given my recent blog, that it made sense to advertise their sage advice here. I have to say, you rarely go wrong with SoS!

For the Price of Cheap Monitors

When it comes to choosing a first pair of monitors, today’s producer is spoiled for choice. The number options around the £250-£350 mark is almost overwhelming. When I was getting into production again a couple of years ago, I thought that a pair of monitors was one of the first things I had to have, so rushed out for a pair of KRK Rokits.

They did the job I suppose. The bright yellow cones certainly gave my ‘studio’ as it was then some gravitas; but now, with hindsight, I’m not certain that was the best way to spend the money… While I’m well aware that all of this advice is subjective, and that five people may well give you five different answers, I’m tempted to say this: If your budget is under about £300/$500, don’t buy monitors, buy headphones.

Now, as with all rules, there are exceptions. If your room is already acoustically treated, or it’s full of soft furniture, irregularly stacked book cases and heavy curtains, you might be fine to go and spend your whole budget on monitors, but, with my room at least, coupled with the fact I needed to know how far down the low end of that kick drum went, I wouldn’t have gone with small monitors, I’d have bought a pair of Sennheiser HD650s from the outset.

Yes, headphones have their shortcomings: they exaggerate the stereo field for example, you might pan more conservatively than you would on speakers, and reverb decisions might be different as you won’t get the benefit of your room reflections. Plugins like 112 dB’s Redline Monitor can help, as can a headphone amp like SPL’s Phonitor or 2Control, which can feed some of the left signal to the right, to simulate the ‘crosstalk’ you would get from speakers. Although, with the amount the SPL units cost, you could invest in some good monitors and acoustic treatment! Still on my wishlist for late night production though.

A set of monitors will make your studio look more like a studio, but you need to be aware of the limitations of cheap monitors in untreated rooms: limited bass extension, problems with flutter echoes and reflections, peaks and troughs in the level of various frequencies across the room. All those things can be compromising your mixing decisions. Now, that’s not to say that you can’t get around some of these limitations by spending a lot of time listening to commercial mixes and learning how your room sounds. In my, albeit humble, opinion, however, at low budgets headphones have fewer cons than monitors. Try out a pair of HD650s or Beyer-Dynamic DT-880s one day and see how you get on…

This post was first published as a news item for NowThenRecords.

The Quick and Dirty Home Mastering Guide: Part 1

One of the themes I see coming up rather often on a lot of the recording forums is of people complaining that their mixes don’t sound as loud as commercial records. The answer given most often is, of course, mastering.

Before we carry on, a few caveats. First off, getting a good mix comes first. As [one version of] the saying goes: you can’t polish a turd. The next thing is that I highly recommend having a reputable professional mastering engineer do your mastering for you.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that they are going to have absolutely top class equipment, most importantly their monitoring, their room and their ears, along with the experience to get the most out of them. The second is that you’ll get a second person listening to your mix. If you’ve been immersing yourself in your programming, performing, arranging and mixing, you can start to lose some objectivity. The mastering engineer can step back from the mix with a fresh perspective and hear what the mix might need.

When it comes to picking a mastering service, do your research. It seems like mastering has exploded in the last couple of years. It seems like everyone with a copy of Waves L2 has set up an online mastering service. Look to see who has mastered some of the records in your collection and check them out; they might be more affordable than you think. With even huge studios like Abbey Road offering online mastering services, anyone can now get access to those ears of experience.

All that said of course there are going to be times you might want to do it yourself. You might have a work in progress you want to listen to in the same context as some commercial releases; you might have just finished a song that you want to play out that night; or you might have just spent your last penny on the latest plugin.

So, for those occasions, how can you bring that level up and add a bit of punch? A simple internet search can give you more ‘how to’ guides than I could ever hope to list, so I’ll just run through a quick step-by-step of what works for me, and you can adapt it for your own best results.

In preparation for part two of this post, get yourself a stereo wave file of your final mix ready along with a couple of files of similar style commercial tracks for comparison and stop back in a few days for the step-by-step…

The First Post…

There are a lot of music blogs around, why should you be spending your time reading this one? Well, first of all, I’m not a pro. I’m not a professional musician/producer/engineer/music writer etc. I’ve never even taken a music technology course; I’m a scientist. Music and production is a hobby for me; perhaps that gives me a different perspective.

I’ll admit, it’s a hobby I take pretty seriously. I enjoy spending time on it, and I’ve certainly spent enough on it over the years! I’ve seen, used and owned my fair share of hardware and software over the last wee while. I’ve sold a few tracks and CDs in my time as well and, while I’ve never had a formal production course, I’ve picked up quite a lot over the last fifteen years from various sources and I hope that at least some of my thoughts and advice might be helpful, or at least interesting! If I don’t know it, then I think I at least know where to go looking for it!

I’m going to try and keep this blog interesting and fairly diverse: a combination of gear reviews, tutorials, new music reviews and my reviews of the classic albums in my collection that have influenced me, as well as my general thoughts and feelings about music technology, production and the industry world; all from the perspective of this enthusiastic hobbyist! Should you be interested, you can check out my tracks here.

So, with that, I’ll leave it for the first post and just wrap up by giving kudos to Benwaa for setting up the free-to-download group on Soundcloud: hopefully this will develop into a great source for free house, techno and edm tracks.

‘Till next time y’all, fc.


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