Archive for the Recording Technology Category

The glory of the grot box

Posted in Recording Technology with tags , , , on January 21, 2016 by dazzlesoundproductions

I’ve got a grot box – and I’m gonna use it!!!

Behritone

Yes, as you will have noticed it’s a Behritone C50A wedged in under my main speakers not Avantone Mixcube.  I did seriously consider the classic Mixcube but the killer was the 2.5 kg power lump, the bloody speaker only weighs about 3!  So this is Behringer’s homage and the specs and performance are close enough for the intended purpose; mid-range hell.  In fact they have engineered this so well that stocks are thin in the UK due to strong sales.

The idea is you add a non-full range mono box to your monitor setup to listen to the all-important middle of your song, not the bottom, not the top but the central girth that is all some listeners will hear on their crappy playback systems.  It ruthlessly smashes your guitars together with the bass and drums in the area of the mix where there is a finite amout of space.  It tells you if you have successfully carved out space for the lo-mids of the rhythm section, if your vocals are cutting through without shredding the mix and your panned guitars are all audible and meshing without losing definition.  Being mono it also straightaway outs any nasty phase cancellation.  All these things are part of a tough, clear mix.  I spent a large amount of burn-in time listening to favourite tracks through this to see how top productions translate on speaker that rolls of both ends of the spectrum.  Not pretty, but solidly focused and with all parts of an arrangement audible, apart from some that weren’t, intriguingly.  My new learning curve is to attempt a mix on this speaker only, then see how it sounds on the main nearfields.  If it sounds acceptable on this it is guaranteed to translate well upwards.  I also plan to experiment with crafting an old school mono mix or two.  When I played the original mono single mixes of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” and “Day Tripper” loud on this box, they sounded awesome.  There’s a lesson right there.

Sound on Sound were sniffy about the C50A claiming mid-range distortion and slow transient response.  Phooey say I.   Of course the ‘cube is superior but there is 80% of the performance here and it doesn’t come with a free heated housebrick.  And anyway the key function is mid-range investigation and that grotty black hole is giving me the information I need to mix better.

The Stone Tape

Posted in Recording Technology with tags , , on November 9, 2015 by dazzlesoundproductions

As part of the BBC’s Fright Night this Halloween, Radio 4 premiered a new adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s Stone Tape, a drama about psychic investigators who stumble upon the seeming evidence of a theory that past traumatic events can be stored in the fabric of an ancient building, replayed and, just maybe,  recorded on a Naga 4 tape machine and a Sennheiser MKH 405 microphone.  This version is set in 1979, six years later than the original and supernatural detective work is not the prime purpose of the team but nonetheless gets in the way of their real work.  The head of the unit becomes obsessed with capturing the sonic creepiness and pushes on to an open-ended confrontation with the “other side”.  The in-depth discussions of how best to flush out the ghost in the masonry with audio technology was undeniably geeky but necessary I felt and the soundscape was amazing.

The director is Peter Strickland who helmed the similarly themed horror film “Berberian Sound Studio” (see previous post) and he is a fellow intrigued with the possibilities of unsettling sounds.  Stone Tape was intended for TV but was downgraded to radio which was perhaps blessing in disguise.  I listened on my PVR through the television with its less than steller speakers but still got my balls rumbled as it were.  A super-charged 3D version was available on the iplayer for a while but no longer sadly.  This is the youtube re-post which may still give you a frission of haunting possibility.  Remember, deep below the noise floor, you never know what may be lurking…

Reflexion Filters – Independent Tests

Posted in Recording Technology with tags , , , , on September 28, 2014 by dazzlesoundproductions

Reflexion filters, the curved screens intended to shield a vocal microphone from reflected reverberations in a room and thus “dry up” the signal are sprouting everywhere these days.  A studio I hired recently had one set up despite the live room being designed by a respected acoustician.  The original idea came from Chinese firm SE Electronics in the form of their Reflexion Filter a curved metal screen sandwiched together with other layers and lined with absorbent foam.  The sales pitch was that it would create a magic forcefield around your microphone excluding all unwanted reverb, flutter echoes and subsonic noise making it sound like you were in a vocal booth.  Well, not quite but as an easy solution to the problem of recording in undesirable spaces it caught a wave.  Sales were so good that in no time at all knock-offs of various price and quality flooded the market and anyone considering such a device was spoilt for choice.

The theory of the filter has led to some (probably deliberate) confusion.  They work principally by absorbing some of the direct sound from your gob on it’s way out into the room.  It then deflects and re-absorbs reflected sound TO A LESSER DEGREE.  The cumulative effect is to adjust the ratio of direct to indirect sound in your singer’s favour and render the vocal “drier”.  So the filter is much less effective at attenuating unwanted sound coming inside from out, though it does do that to a degree.  This is why it is only worth considering in tandem with some room treatment and if the room is ghastly it won’t help much. It also achieves it’s work at the cost of colouring your signal with close reflections from its own structure.  These will generally be fairly benign, but you would want to minimize them nonetheless.

Until recently there was not an independent reliable test of the claims SE and its competitors have made for their products – Sound On Sound to the rescue.  Using an anechoic chamber to test a selection of screens, the magazine provided a buyers guide.  The screens were rated for attenuation of room echo, attenuation of external sound and colouration of sound.  The results were intriguing; the original filter scored well, showing SE were wise to copyright it’s specific design.  Their uprated and expensive successor “Space” (a hefty £300) was better but not outstandingly so.  The humble Auralex Mudguard (£75) which features a moulded plastic shell lined with foam was the dark horse, coming within shouting distance of the SE product’s performance at a remarkably low price.  There were some other interesting findings but you should buy the mag to find out.  These filters are not without their uses but it was instructive to see what they are really made of performance wise.  And remember, room treatment ends with one not starts.

How long is this gonna take?

Posted in Recording Technology on June 27, 2014 by dazzlesoundproductions

Searching question about the time it takes to lay down an album even in this age of digital wonder, addressed here by producer engineer Justin Colletti.  Good encapsulation of the 3 main workflow options musicians face when embarking on their opus, and the author has a justified obsession with pre-production.  This is the process by which an artist decides finally what is going down in the studio and how before an XLR plug has clicked home.  If you want to record quickly, you must know what you are going to record and keep eyes on the prize.  Do the planning/mind changing/arguing/rewriting on free time, then head to the studio.  If you are stacking overdub bricks the story is the same.  Finish your material then record not the other way round.  Expect the time difference to be akin to that between building a house and inflating a bouncy castle.

Note also the song a day approach he advocates which strikes a balance between discipline and creativity.  A good enough idea that I might start suggesting it to my clients.  Years ago, a studio manager where my eager young self was recording with my band sagely told me when planning a recording session you should double the budget and halve the number of songs.  If either number is then less than one you’re not ready.

Top Tip – Luvverly Dobly

Posted in Recording Technology with tags , , , on November 3, 2013 by dazzlesoundproductions

Cassettes are making a comeback if you haven’t noticed.  Free of the hipster cred associations it’s cooler cousin vinyl is burdened with, cassettes are defiantly lo-fi and proud.  When the format was first launched in the US in 1966, it was a solution in search of a problem.  The poor quality of pre-recorded tapes and the crappy artwork squashed and rotated to portrait format didn’t provide much incentive to swap over from LP records.  The early decks also did not handle the format well.  Hiss was a constant bugbear and Dolby B noise reduction simply skimmed off the highs on playback (a reasonable compromise was to add it at the manufacturing stage and leave consumers the choice of switching it on the their player too, which is what happened).  Cassettes hung on until the Sony Walkman arrived in 1979 and this was followed by a huge expansion in the availability of blanks plus recording/dubbing decks.  Suddenly the cassette could go everywhere and carry whatever music you wanted.  Sales of tape albums boomed but the attraction of tape was in the scope for self-expression: mixtapes, 4 track demos, Grandmaster Flash’s party tapes, street dancing to boomboxes.

Improvements to the technology brought low noise chrome tape, fancy exciter systems like Capitol’s SDR/XDR and better plastic housings and transport mechanisms (less wow and flutter or aarrgh! chewed up tapes).  It was to no avail as the CD killed the format for home listening and inevitably so.  Yet, I would insist again that the great tape democracy was about how they were used rather than passively consumed.  Cheap and easy to make, they put you in control of your product and the cassette portastudio was a potent creative tool in the right hands, check this track recorded in a home studio on one (albeit with DAT bounces).

So the top tip is – embrace the grunge.  Try setting up the cheapest cassette tape recorder you can find (argos still do a £35 Philips model) alongside a microphone on vocals, guitar, drums whatever.  Set the record volume from low to high depending on how much fuzz you want.  Start the tape playing, record to digital as normal but remember the count in!  Record the tape player’s output to your DAW and line up the signals manually.  Even the crummiest tape recorder overdrives before it clips – instant cassette culture.

Music as a weapon

Posted in Recording Technology with tags , , , , on October 22, 2013 by dazzlesoundproductions

When music attacks!  Is a not a documentary Really have commissioned as yet but I saw something covering the same dark topic on Al Jazeera –

Songs Of War

Imagine being forced to listen to Mnah Mnah on headphones for hours or days at a time at eardrum busting volume.  Insanity would be a likely outcome, and the US army knows that all too well.  This documentary looks into the psychology of music, human perception of it and reactions to it, and how it can be used as a device of torture or a motivational tool for trained killers.

This is a slightly different thing from sound as a weapon which has as shorter but equally ignoble history.  A team of French researchers led by Vladimir Gavreau discovered how ultra strong sound waves at very low frequencies (>20 Hz) could disable or kill.  He posited a weapon that generated and directed intense blasts of infrasound and could kill at a distance of several miles.  So why didn’t the generals and majors leap to it cranking up the noise?  Simply, such a weapon is too dangerous to operate as it is not the audible spectrum that kills but the extreme sound pressure.  Sound waves get longer and more powerful the lower the frequency.  Infrasound is indiscriminately deadly because the human body is pulverised by the impact of very low amplified sound and it goes through walls and armour plate and stuff.  To use it you would have to adopt the same precautions as a nuclear bomb i.e. be a long way away in a reinforced bunker.  So the sonic doomsday weapon stayed on the drawing board though in a scaled back guise, it has still found its way onto the battlefield as compact super-powered speakers intended to deafen and disorientate.

But can you get Smooth FM on it?

For the more intimate business of torturing prisoners music is used as the weapon.  It involves not simply brute volume but also dissonances, tritones, looped repetition, aspects of music that the brain can’t help but find unpleasant.  Something as simple as cutting up soothing classical music digitally and reassembling it then overlaying random white and pink noise can cause your brain to see-saw between some kind of recognition and fearful recoil.  Simple, childish music repeated over very long periods can lock the brain into a simple processing loop and at sufficient volume, stops you from “hearing yourself think”.  You simultaneously become sensitized and stupified.  This was at least part of the motivation for selecting Sesame Street music for the Gitmo jukebox.

Music may be one of the crowing achievements of human creativity but it’s very ubiquity makes it a potential weapon.  It was ever thus – and as I always like to end on a glib note here is my solitary confinement playlist from hell: this little lot on repeat should net you the names of the rest of the cell no bother.

Crazy Frog/Barbie Girl/No Way/Disco Duck/Teletubbies/Doop/Swagger Jagger/From A Distance/I Will Always Love You/Achy Breaky Heart/Saturday Night/Umbrella/Lady In Red/Tubthumping/Ketchup Song/You’re Beautiful/Orville’s Song/Barbados/Naughty Naughty Naughty/No Charge/Watcha Say/Mr Blobby/Hocus Pocus/Anyone Can Fall In Love/Ruff Mix/Pleasemake itstopi’lltellyoueverything

Top Tip: Microphone Shakedown

Posted in Recording Technology with tags , , , , , on May 20, 2013 by dazzlesoundproductions

I have been begging, stealing, borrowing and even buying a variety of mics to use on recent recording sessions and before my sieve-y memory let me down here are some observations.

MK 101

Oktava MK 101 (condenser)

This is the body of their 012 pencil condenser with a large capsule in a peculiar shaped head grill.  It looks like an overgrown commentator’s mic but there is no arguing with the sound; big warm and open.  Good off-axis response so this could do duty as a drum overhead, even in mono.  Flattering on vocals or acoustic and useful just about anywhere you want a smooth treble response and plump low end.  The capsule is a descendant of the well-regarded MK 319 and I really liked it’s character.  The Russian company has historically suffered from QC failures but have made strides forward lately in the face of intense Chinese competition.  Nonetheless if you do purchase one and hear something you should not, send it back for replacement.

MD441

Sennheiser MD441 (dynamic)

The cousin of the venerable 421 this has similarly idiosyncratic looks, a sleek silver space age hulk that would fit right in on Thunderbirds.  It is brighter than the 421 and with a hotter output, and the design incorporates a humbucking coil which gives it a unique sonic fingerprint.  Particularly biting on snare drum but I have used a pair for the whole kit, wonderful on guitar amps and bass and it has fans as a vocal mike, Tom Petty for example.  The higher price of these dynamics tells in the faintly coloured sound which adds subtle emphasis only where it is pleasing to the ear.

CV12

Avantone CK12 (condenser)

I’m not a fan of tube mics, they are slow, heavy, cumbersome and temperamental.  While it is possible to deliver a great condenser design to a budget, tube mics are expensive if you want a reliable result.  The harmonic distortion of the valve is a hit and miss affair and needs the right electronics behind it to produce an exceptional result.  The daddy of course is the C12 but the reputation of AKG’s monster is inflated by snobbery, the kind of warm valve glow of self satisfaction you get from parting with £5000 for a microphone.  Tube mics don’t offer very good bang for the buck but if you must own one the c£400 CK12 is clean, clear and sweet.  Heavy proximity effect of course, but sturdily made and close enough to the vintage lightbulb sound as to make no odds.  Very pretty but bordering on treacly – a little like it’s most famous endorser Taylor Swift.

Red5 RV85

Red5 Audio RV85 (condenser)

And so to a little gem that cost less than £40.  Scotland-based Red5 do a range of affordable mics of a surprisingly high quality.  This is a very petite back-electret condenser on an adjustable boom arm with a compact power supply.  Very quiet and ruler flat response.    At this price it is a steal for sound reinforcement on larger sound sources like choirs or instrumental ensembles.  Red5 do a range of affordable mics which have gained favourable testimony, I can also vouch for their kick drum dynamic.