Monthly Archives: May 2014

Review – Ravity by Luxonix

 

 

Luxonix’s Ravity was a VST plugin synth discontinued to the dismay of many. Now it’s back. We take a close look at this rompler in this review.

by Rob Mitchell, May 2014

 

Ravity is a VST plugin sound module by Luxonix. It was originally released in 2004, but it was discontinued in December 2005. Luxonix had decided to start producing a similar product which had some additional features and so Ravity, unfortunately, was left by the wayside. Recently they have been receiving many requests to sell Ravity once again, and so they have decided to re-release it.

Ever since it was first released back in 2004, nothing has changed feature-wise, except the price. I have to admit; I had never heard of it until a few weeks ago. As you’ll gather from my review, I am glad they decided to bring it back. 

So, what is Ravity? It is a rompler, meaning it is sample-based PCM sound module, so there’s no actual waveform generation going on here. However, you do have control over the filters, LFOs, envelopes, and many effects.

There are two other models in the Ravity lineup: Ravity R, and Ravity 16.  Ravity R is a drum sound module, and Ravity 16 lets you load up to 16 modules (of S or R) to use independently, or you can link them together. It can utilize up 16 stereo outputs.

For this review, I will mainly go over Ravity S.  It is a 32-bit plugin, and only works in Windows. There is no 64-bit version, and it is not available for the Mac. I tested it out while writing this review using a 32-bit version of Windows 7 Pro.  Installation was quick and easy, as it uses a key protection scheme. It has a compact 32 megabytes of WAV data that translates to quick loading times.  Luxonix has included a good variety of presets, with over 400 of them to choose from.

The plugin has four layers with two oscillators in each. Each of the four layers can have up to three effects, and there are three more effect slots that can be used for the master output. Each layer has its own transpose setting, as well as key and velocity range settings.


One nice addition is the Edit button, which lets you show or hide the editing screen as needed. This can really help when you already have a lot going on in your DAW, and will save space on the screen.

Clicking on the Ravity logo at the top right brings up the back panel. This shows the credits for Ravity, but also has some handy additional functions tucked away. From here, you can clear MIDI assignments, set the default panel to the Main, Edit or Preset screens, set the MIDI velocity curve, and get quick access to the user manual.

 

Oscillators

For each layer, there are two oscillators. For each of the two oscillators, you can load in waveforms such as saw, square, sine, and many others. There are a large number of sampled sounds in Ravity, so I can’t really list them all here. I will say that some of them include woodwinds, vibraphone, pianos, fretless bass, synthesizers, brass, and sound effects. 

There are controls for adjusting the octave, semitone, and fine tuning. In this same section, there is also a mix control for the output of the two oscillators, and an LFO amount control. 

 

Effects

There is no shortage of effects to load in Ravity. Some of them include an amp distortion, overdrive, stereo delay, reverb, flanger, and many others. Two of the effects are actually filters, which add to the built-in filters already included in Ravity.

In total, Luxonix have supplied with 24 different effects. As I mentioned before, you can load up to three effects on each of the four layers.  They have also included a handy switch to turn all the effects on or off.

 

LFOs and Filters

In the upper left, there is a switch to select between the filter controls, filter envelope, and amplitude envelope. The filter setting can be switched between -12dB and -24dB per octave. There is an LFO for each layer, and it has six waveforms available.  The LFO has the usual rate and amount controls, as well as key and BPM sync controls. Both the LFO waveform and filter envelope have an invert switch.

Arpeggiator

The arpeggiator has eight different play modes, including settings such as up, down, up/down, up/down2, down/up, down/up2, as played, and random. There is a Gate setting for the arp, and the Key sync control synchronizes the midi notes with the arpeggiator.  The Latch control will keep playing the last note that is played. The arp has a good number of controls and settings, but I’d like to see a Swing function added.

 

Preset Browser

The Preset Browser is easy to use, and has the varied categories along the left side. When you click on one of the categories, it then shows what presets are included for it on the right side. One feature I like about the browser is that when you skim through the presets, you can hear how they sound without actually loading it up. For example, your song can be playing in your DAW, and as you click on each preset in the browser, it will change to that sound without actually loading it.  If decide you don’t like one you just auditioned, just click Cancel in the lower right to get back to the original preset. 


 

Conclusion

Ravity can be thought of as a “bread and butter” synth module, as it has all the basics you’d probably need. Using its many layers, filters, and effects, you can get a great variety of sounds from this nice rompler. I really like the interface, and the quick loading times. It might not have gigabytes of sample material to draw from, but it does have that great, classic sound of synth modules of yesterday.

Another thing I just have to mention: It just “works”. I know that might sound silly, but in these days of highly complex synthesizer and workstation software, this is one that I could easily work with, and the layout is a breeze to navigate. The only issue I had was that I had to run Sonar X3 as an Admin first, as it had issues finding a certain file when saving presets, and when closing out of SONAR as well. Besides those minor issues, it worked just fine.

As it was originally released about 10 years ago, the minimum computer specifications are very low compared to today’s standards. This translates to a very light load on your PC. You can get away with many instances loaded up and there will be no problem. Try that with some of the more modern plugins these days!

One of the best features of Ravity is its price. You can get it bundled with Ravity 16 for just $34.00 USD. They also offer it with Ravity R and Ravity 16 for only $45.00 USD. The only two drawbacks are that it isn’t available in a 64-bit version, and Mac users are out of luck. I have a 32-bit PC setup, it worked fine for me.

They do recommend downloading the demo version first, and to just try it out with your own DAW.  In my opinion, this is a definite keeper.  Ravity and the other Luxonix products are available from their website here:  http://luxonix.com/

 

SoundBytes Freebies Of The Month – May 2014

What’s better than free? How about free and really cool? Tomislav Zlatic presents five notable freebies in an ongoing series of such coverage.

by Tomislav Zlatic, May 2014

Dear readers, welcome to the second round-up of freeware instruments and effects in SoundBytes Magazine. Last time we introduced you to four amazing freebies which have been released in the first couple of months of 2014, hopefully giving you some useful tools to help you with your music endeavors. For this issue we’ve prepared a slightly larger selection of free plugins which have been released in March and April. After reading this article, you’ll have an entire virtual rock band at your disposal, mark our words!

 

Lethality by Iridium Iris Software

Let’s start this month’s list of freebies with Lethatlity, a surprisingly good sounding virtual guitar instrument by Iridium Iris Software. The instrument was first released as a commercial plugin back in January, but it is now offered as a freeware tool since the developers are concentrating on further developing other instruments in their product arsenal.

 

 

The instrument is sample based, rather than being a modeling synthesizer. It is based on a collection of electric guitar samples played in different styles. The played notes can be palm muted and strummed using the built-in controls.

Overall, Lethality sounds rather convincing when playing picked notes. The power chords can sound a bit artificial at times, but this can be fixed in the mix. Still, the instrument definitely performs better in solo guitar parts than working as a substitute for a rhythm guitar.

It’s important to note that the samples have been recorded using direct input technology, so you’ll have to use an amplifier and cabinet modelling plugin after Lethality in the signal chain in order to get the proper sound. We’ve prepared exactly such a freebie for your right below!

Lethality is released as a 32-bit and 64-bit VST plugin for Windows-based hosts.

Download: http://www.iridiumiris.se/

 

SoftAmp FM25 by AXP

So, you’re looking for a freeware guitar amplifier simulator to process the Lethality electric guitar instrument featured above? AXP has you covered with their SoftAmp FM25 guitar amp plugin which was released in March this year.

 

Rather than being just a guitar amplifier simulator, SoftAmp FM25 also features a built-in cabinet section so you can use it right out of the box. The cabinet section can be switched off too, if you prefer working with 3rd party cabinet impulse responses. Either way, the built-in cabinet sounds rather convincing and can be used both for mixing purposes and your everyday guitar jams.

Unlike most guitar amplifier simulator plugins out there, SoftAmp FM25 is based on a practice guitar amplifier. It is a carefully modeled copy of the Fender Frontman 25R combo amplifier. You won’t be able to get a Marshall tone out of it, but that’s an advantage in our eyes because it adds bit of a variety to the user’s sound arsenal. This way you can get a fresh guitar sound which hasn’t already been heard in thousands of classic rock tracks.

SoftAmp FM25 is offered as a 32-bit & 64-bit VST plugin for Windows-based host applications.

Download: http://www.soft-amp.com/softamp-fm25

 

Yamaha Hybrid Kit by Drumdrops

Now that you have the guitar section for your virtual rock band covered, let’s find the drummer. And wow, we have an amazing free drummer for you this month! Out of the blue, Drumdrops have released their monstrous Yamaha Hybrid Kit sample library as a freebie in April, providing what is quite possibly the best free acoustic drum library out there.

 

The library is based on a thoroughly sampled Yamaha acoustic drum kit, providing 2592 audio samples in total within over 1.7 GB of audio data. When you create a free user account at the Drumdrops website, you’ll be offered a choice between four different versions of the kit:

  • Multi-Velocity Pack
  • Single Hits Pack
  • Drum Replacement Pack
  • All Samples Pack

 Once you’ve picked the free version of your choice, use the code “yamahafree” at checkout to get the free download. A fully featured Kontakt version of the kit will be released soon, so you may want to wait for that release before downloading the freebie. If you’re not a Kontakt user, we recommend downloading the All Samples Pack and pairing it up with SFZ or TX16WX sampler patches which are hosted on BPB.

The kit works fantastic in most subgenres of rock music and it will also work well in pop, indie, and other similar music genres. We are impatiently waiting for the Kontakt edition of the kit which will offer the same kind of quality as the commercial Drumdrops releases.

Yamaha Hybrid Kit comes with mappings for NI Kontakt (simpler version of the kit), Reason, Ableton Live, Maschine, and many other sampler formats.

Download: http://www.drumdrops.com/drum-samples/yamaha-hybrid-kit/intro

 

MBX3 by Audio Desk

Unfortunately, the bass guitar player didn’t show up for the recording session, so let’s find a replacement for him. Perhaps MBX3 by Audio Desk, an emulation of the famous Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer, will work as a good substitute and show the bass guitar dude that he has to work harder in order to stay a member of the band?

 

Most of our readers probably know that Roland originally manufactured their TB-303 synthesizer as a bass machine for rock bands. Unexpectedly, musicians used this instrument in a different ways than planned by Roland and it served as a tool which revolutionized electronic dance music forever. Entire genres like acid house were based on the sound of this instrument and it truly became one of the best known synthesizers of all time.

Audio Desk has created a solid emulation of this bass synthesizer and you’re free to use it in any way you want. You can use it to create classic bass lines for our little virtual rock band here or go wild with it and create all sorts of electronic dance music sounds!

MBX3 is released as a 32-bit VSTi plugin for Windows-based hosts.

Download: http://www.audio-desk.com/free-vst-synthesizer-audio-desk-mb3x/

 

SlickEQ by TDR/VOS

After recording all the instrument parts, it’s time for the mixing stage and you’ll need a high quality equalizer plugin to pull it off properly. Thankfully, the superstar developer team formed by Variety of Sound and Tokyo Dawn Labs members has released SlickEQ in March this year. It is a fantastic freeware parametric equalizer which will help you in brushing up your mixes to perfection.

 

SlickEQ comes in four different flavors, modeled after classic “American”, “British”, “German” and “Soviet” equalizer designs. Each of the four equalizer models features a unique set of EQ curves and non-linear behaviors. The non-linearity component is completely optional and you can switch it off completely if you’re going for more transparent results.

The four EQ models can be paired independently with four unique output stages (“Linear”, “Silky”, “Mellow” and “Deep”), based on different saturation models. The saturation stage uses the fantastic “Stateful Saturation” algorithms which have been developed in Variety of Sound labs. The plugin can be used to add tons of analog mojo to your mix, but it also works rather well as a transparent equalizer for mastering purposes. All in all, SlickEQ is a must-have tool in your mixing plugin arsenal.

SlickEQ is released as a 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU plugin for Windows and Mac-based hosts.

Download: http://www.tokyodawn.net/tdr-vos-slickeq/

 

Conclusion

So, the past couple of months brought us an amazing free drum sample library, a neat little virtual guitar instrument and a capable guitar amplifier emulation. That’s almost an entire rock band ready to jam inside your DAW! You’ll need a bass player too though, and that’s where the monophonic MBX3 bass synthesizer jumps in!

Once you’ve recorded the performance of your virtual rock band, you can enhance the mix to perfection with the amazing SlickEQ plugin. Happy mixing dear readers and we’ll see you in two months with a fresh batch of freeware instruments and effects!

 

Tomislav Zlatic web site: http://bedroomproducersblog.com/

Review – The Voices of Eduardo Tarilonte ( Altus: The Voice of Renaissance and Cantus: Gregorian Chants)

Eduardo Tarilonte brings us two remarkable new vocal libraries through Best Service: voices of the Renaissance in Altus and Gregorian chant in Cantus.

by Alex Arsov, May 2014

 

Altus: The Voice of Renaissance and Cantus: Gregorian Chants

Eduardo Tarilonte started a new series of libraries through Best Service, bringing us sampled human voices in all shapes and colors. After his first trials in Forest Kingdom, where opera soprano voice was one of the best parts of the otherwise already excellent library, Eduardo decided to dedicate more time and effort in this field, bringing us Shevannai: The Voice of Elves as his first all-voice library. Now we have Cantus, followed a month later by Altus.

OK, we all know what he can do with his libraries, and that he sells them to Best Service (actually, he is a Best Service employee). So, the only question is: “What we can do with them?”

None of those libraries contain any advanced word-builder tools (Cantus have a basic  word builder where you can combine various Latin words – but you can’t add any new words) , but we have enough various articulations, different syllables and even words, ranked over the lower keys of the keyboard, which we can use in a melody by just pressing the appropriate key for the chosen articulation or voice. With a touch of programming, you can achieve very impressive results, fulfilling your cinematic or any other sort of ambient track, adding some voice background. All those libraries also serve well for adding some background vocals to your main, live vocalist.

No matter what you can do, or what you can’t, all Tarilonte’s voice libraries sound very authentic. So, if you spend some additional time combining various articulations, tweaking some controllers, you get a real vocal line, a vocal line which is a bit limited by the number of different voices, but still no one should recognize that those limited number of syllables or words come from a sample library.

 

Altus: The Voice of Renaissance

This is a voice library that contains cleverly programmed tenor voices sung by José Hernández Pastor. With keyswitches on the lower keys, you can assign various different words. As soon as you start playing legato, the next note does not start playing the sample from the beginning of the word, but instead uses one of the looped vowels (the one that you have selected) so that the transition from note to note sounds much more natural than it would if the first letter from the played word were to be used.

That’s definitely something which we could call “clever programming.”

There is also one additional preset with various phrases sung by the same tenor, and it is a useful addition as those phrases always come in handy for adding a touch of human voice to your arrangements. For good measure we also get fifteen different soundscapes made from those vocal samples, so all in all, for $149 USD you get your personal tenor vocalist, a bit limited edition compared to having a real vocalist in your studio, but combining Tarilonte’s clever programming with your clever programming, nobody will notice that. After all, it sounds as real as a real vocalist can sound (that’s the trademark for all Tarilonte’s libraries). The only imperfection is that vocal samples cover only one octave, so you should adapt your song to the vocal and not vice versa.

Cantus: Gregorian Chants

A Gregorian Monk Ensemble is prepared to cooperate with you for $199 USD. For that money you will get an octave and a half of a pristine Gregorian Ensemble singing various phrases or vowels. This library is easy to use, and it sounds very realistic. Transitions between notes is even better than expected, and the sample quality is at Tarilonte’s classic high standard. There is even a word builder where you can combine various Latin words, making a very realistic Monk experience with no effort, so no matter how you use it, by building the phrase out of the word builder, or by just combining various vowels, the end result is very natural and realistic. While using Altus is a matter of personal taste, this one is almost unmissable. It suits every music genre, serving as a lead vocal line, or even as a great background for a live vocal line.

For better measure, we also get nineteen soundscapes made from vocal samples and a preset with prerecorded phrases. At first I thought there are just few of them, but after pressing few keyswitches, I discovered that every key in the lower range brings a new set of phrases, a cool and nice addition for instant use if your intention is just to add a touch of human voice to your composition.

A very inspiring library that can put your arrangement onto a whole new level.

I’m sure that Eduardo will bring us some more vocal libraries in the future, so be prepared to leave your safe instrumental field, adding some new colors to your composition. In a previous issue I already represented you Shevannai: The Voice of Elves. In combination with Altus and Cantus, you already have almost everything that you need for spicing your cinematic, ambient or even electro songs. Almost, because Tarilonte never sleeps, so beware.

Available on Bestservice site:

Altus; The Voice of  Renaissance –  $149 USD
 http://www.bestservice.de/en/altus.html

Cantus: Gregorian Chants  – $199 USD
 http://www.bestservice.de/en/cantus.html

 

Abletonalies – May 2014

Alex Arsov begins a journey to discover the whole micro-cosmos of various toys and tools developed for use in conjunction with Ableton Live in an ongoing series of such coverage.

by Alex Arsov, May 2014

A few months ago I got Ableton Live. Thanks to various Sadowick tutorial video clips I’ve mastered Live in less than two weeks, become a bit addicted and decided to explore a bit deeper to find if there are any “on a tight budget” additions that could improve my working skills or that could make some significant impact on my production.

After spending some quality time googling around, I discovered the whole micro-cosmos of various toys and tools dedicated specifically for this DAW, finding that some of them are definitively a “must have”, while some other are maybe not so essential, but are so adorable, that it would be pity to let them lie forgotten deep down in a google zone.

I rolled up my sleeves and put my nose even deeper finding more and more interesting things, so I’ve decided to start a new series of articles under the common name Abletonalies, covering all this goodies. So, let’s start with the first one.

Abletunes

In my research I came to the Abletunes site. ( http://abletunes.com ) 

They are selling some Ableton Live templates along with some sample packs offering additional Live-related stuff. At first I downloaded their free templates that can be found under the Blog menu on their site.

There is also a free racks pack with 26 top and versatile uplifters (tipical rising sounds that we can found in almost every new dance production) racks made with Operator.

On the left side of the Blog window you will find a link for other free templates. There is a pack with a few simple templates along with one production template. I modified this production template adding several additional things, changing this and that, and now it is my main template for most of my late production. In other free templates you can save some combination of sounds or effects for further use, or just learn something from those combinations by seeing how it is done. In the San Tropez template, which is one of the free templates, you can find a fine, up-to-date lead synth line made with Sylenth 1. I spent some time figuring out how it is done (which automation is used) and now I’m ready to make something similar in my production. Nice and very useful.

For the first column I chose five old template packs. They told me that newer templates are much more advanced, but I chose those older ones as I’ve found some interesting moments listening demo clips. I I didn’t know how they are done, so I decided to focus my attention on those. In the future, there will be some newer ones. Until then …

The first is an Electro House template named Stripes. It brings you a combination of a few layered synths for leads and bass making a huge dance wall-of-sound creations. I’ve also learned a trick or two from a drum rack. For $29 USD, you get an insight into structure, all automations and the wall-of-sound technique. I simply dragged the whole synth group to my instrument user library since this one really contains nice combination of plucked and classic Trance saw sounds. Ditto for distorted bass group. Last time I spent more than hour to find four synths for layering together. Now I can just drag a group and start playing being a new Nicky Romero, or even better. 😉

The next one is a Dubstep template named Recall. It will cost you same amount of money as previous one. With this template you will learn how to make Dubstep bass with Sylenth, combining few different layers to get more versatile and vivid bass line. There is also a handful of cool synth patches and full arrangement, representing you how to build theme, how to use automation, effects and other small elements, that sounds good but are not so easy to figure how it is done. Recall also brings a nice mastering chain that I use it with a few further modifications for all my projects.

Secret Of Taj Mahal is another dubstep template with very clever use of two Operators for getting almost Skrilex bass lines using the Autofilter Live effect with one Operator and LFO inside the other Operator – very clever and very simple but effective.

High Voltage by Felix Luker will teach you how to get nasty sound movements in Electro house arrangement with some Live internal effects. I always thought those things are made with some special programmed synth patches, but nope – all you need is a few additional effects and good measure of automation. I have to say that all those clever solutions are worth every penny, having such project is like having a tutor near you explaining you how some things are done. This one also brings a nice wall of leads and basses made with Sylenth 1 combined with internal effects, ready to use in another of your projects.

Escape by Filip Mentes is another Electro House template (actually they have all sort of genres and subgenres at Abletunes, those templates were my choice.) Inspiring combination of piano and classical Electro House synthesizers with arp-ed notes that you can hear a lot in a many current hits (no matter that this is not so new template), aggressive layered distorted basses with some cool builds and bleep sounds, automation and some nice drum patterns.

There are some similarities in those templates, so buying all templates from the same genre will not open a heavenly gate for you. But if you choose a few different templates that are not far from the sound you are after, then those templates could have a big impact to your production. It is far more than tutorial video clips, because in a template you can always isolate a particular track, analyze what particular automation does, try some other combinations. In the end, you can see how particular parts of the song are made, and how some breaks, uplifts and other things have been accomplished.

Uppercussion – Vocalisms

The next one, a really cool Live addition, I found on the Uppercussion site: 
( www.uppercussion.com )

They are offering various beat packs, but one especially drew my attention. It is Vocalisms – a huge collection of a vocal percussions zipped in one pack.  

$49 USD later I’ve loaded some kits in the Live arrangement window and spent some quality time toying with them. There are plenty of various hits in every kit, even much more than I expected. 

Vocalisms represents a clear and present oral danger. Well recorded, even better sounding with so many elements that you can use in isolation or in combination, layered with normal drum kit of your choice. 

Visit their site, listen to the demo, and you will soon get an understanding of what I’m talking about. 

How to Make Electronic Music

Not exactly the Ableton Live related site, but How to Make Electronic Music (http://howtomakeelectronicmusic.com/) offers some great kick samples that I use heavily in my production.

Synthmaster Player

At Kv331audio (www.kv331audio.com )/ you can get one of the best synths on a tight budget that money can buy. I have a full version of Synthmaster and it has become totally indispensable in my Live production. This synth offers much versatility and highly recognizable sounds suitable for any sort of contemporary production. I have most of the top synthesizers that are currently on the market (missing only NI Massive) but this one became my main electro tool lately.

So, for just 30 EUR you can get a Player version, containing 600 presets at your fingertips. You can’t edit them as you can in a full version (and there are many more presets in a full version), but even with those diminished features, it is still a Cadillac in the world of VST instruments. Those 30 EUR can more or less put your production on a whole new level.

To Be Continued …

In a next issue, we will dig even deeper, trying to find some new, not-to-be-missed little things that can push your production even further.

By A. Arsov

Review – The Kaotica Eyeball

If you record in a less than ideal acoustic environments, you might find it easier to achieve consistent vocal sound using the Kaotica Eyeball. Read this to learn more.

by Per Lichtman, May 2014

The Kaotica Eyeball (http://kaoticaeyeball.com/) is small, light and even “flame retardant” ball and pop screen that you slide onto your mic. Kaotica sells the device direct online only for $199 USD and bill it as giving the sound of a vocal booth anywhere you take it. They also go into a ton more detail about the specifics of that on both their site and their packaging. With that in mind, I tested the Eyeball from February through May to find out whether this was the silver bullet that vocalists and VO performers had been waiting for.

 

An Eyeball on Singers

First of all, in less than ideal acoustic environments it’s much easier to achieve a smooth and consistent vocal sound using the Kaotica Eyeball. The worse the acoustic environment you are recording in is, the closer the vocalist gets to the mic and the louder they sing, the bigger the difference will be between recording with the Kaotica Eyeball and without it. I would also like to mention that the manufacturer’s suggestion of recording the vocalist two or three inches away from the pop-filter isn’t the only way to go: I got some great results with the vocalist right up against the pop-shield for an increase proximity effect (though the trade-off is a less effective pop-shield, of course). More on this in the voiceover section.

By audibly reinforcing the sound of the vocalist and reducing the level of the external early reflections and reverb, the Kaotica Eyeball lowers the impact of the space the audio is recorded in. Sure enough, vocals sound smoother and more consistent since the frequency response is far more predictable inside the Eyeball than in less than in haphazard acoustic environments (like most offices, bedrooms and kitchens, for example). It worked equally well when handheld as when mounted on a microphone stand, making me curious what the results would be like on-stage (assuming the visual of a large ball wasn’t a distraction). I did not a have occasion to test this during the review period, however.

When performing loud, dynamic vocal lines without the Kaotica Eyeball in an office, I would normally hear the room ring out at certain parts as particular notes, vowels or consonants resonated more than others – especially during the accents in a line. When that would happen, the size of the room used and its deficiencies could sometimes be difficult to mask, even with EQ and reverb. But with the Eyeball, similar performances sounded far more consistent, without the strong unintended peaks and valleys in the resonances. It certainly had a lot more of the sound of a small vocal booth – even when the space was adverse enough to still intrude a bit, it still felt like a vocal booth but more like someone had left the door of the booth open a bit to a less ideal space. In other words, the product does pretty much exactly what it says it will and what it’s supposed to. This is extremely useful.


 

  Cardioid with Eyeball. Singer 3.5-5 inches from microphone

  Cardioid with Eyeball. Singer 7-9 inches from microphone

  Cardioid without Eyeball. Singer 3.5-5 inches from microphone.

  Figure 8 with Eyeball. Singer 3.5-5 inches from microphone – normalized output

  Figure 8 with Eyeball. Singer 7-9 inches from microphone – normalized output

  Figure 8 with Eyeball. Singer 3.5-5 inches from microphone – normalized output

  Omni with Eyeball. Singer 3.5-5 inches from microphone – normalized output

  Omni with Eyeball. Singer 7-9 inches inches from microphone – normalized output

  Omni without Eyeball. Singer 3.5-5 inches from microphone – normalized output

 

Eyeball for Voiceover

Of course, when most people hear “vocal both”, one of the first things they think of is voiceover work, and since I started writing the review, I’ve literally been recommending the Eyeball to all of my friends that do voiceover work but don’t have a professional vocal booth available. Honestly, short of building a vocal booth, this really is every bit as as good as I’ve ever heard it get. Voiceover artists: if you want to shift the focus from a sub-optimal space to the quality of your performance, this would be the very next thing I’d get after a decent microphone.

The Eyeball is also far more effective than some of the guerilla techniques indie engineers often have had to deal with in the past (though it can of course be used in combination with them). If every home recording that showed up on YouTube or Vimeo or as a podcast started using the Eyeball with a condenser mic, the Internet could be a much more pleasant place to listen to.

As mentioned earlier, feel free to experiment with recording your voiceover artist right up against the pop-shield: the proximity effect can often be very pleasant, even with the less effective role the pop-shield can play at that distance.

 

Compatibility with Different Mics

I tested the Kaotica Eyeball with a variety of mics and converters, as well as playing back on several different playback systems. When the recordings were properly setup, the differences were clearly audible across the gamut, but one of the most useful tests was with a multi-pattern microphone with rather low self-noise. When I hooked up the Rode NT2A (one of the least expensive tri-pattern mics I’ve enjoyed using) I found that Eyeball not only worked well with a cardioid pattern pick-up, but also with omni and figure 8. Rooms that normally had no hope of working well in omni mode suddenly became viable when the Eyeball was used. Not only did Eyeball omni vocal recordings give less of the room tone than omni recordings without it, they often gave even less of the original room tone than cardioid recordings without the Eyeball.



 

The Kaotica Eyeball was compatible with a wide range of microphones – especially after I got over my initial timidity about stretching the hole in the foam to let larger microphones in. It worked well with everything from sub-hundred dollar dynamic cardioid microphones to premium boutique large diaphragm condensers, like the Telefunken ELAM 251-E. But of course, some things were impractical. Finding shotgun mics small enough to fit in the Eyeball was a challenge and even when I did, the results were less than ideal – so I would rule shotgun mics out. Obviously, there’s no practical way to take advantage of the Eyeball using things like the internal mics on cameras, camcorders, smartphones, laptops and desktops but if you were planning on using one of those for your recordings, you would be well served to start by getting a better microphone anyway.

 

Getting Specific – “Rough” Testing

So far I’ve talked mostly about the differences in qualitative rather than quantitative terms, so let’s analyze the results of some of the recordings for a moment. For my “acid test” analysis, I paired the Kaotica Eyeball with a much older, inexpensive audio interface (the M-Audio FireWire 410), used the interface’s onboard mic pre with phantom power, a long generic microphone cable and hooked up the Rode NT2A microphone in a noisy room with a computer running open chassis and a door open to a kitchen with a loud refrigerator. The room was untreated, elongated, messy and full of loose things, like plastic and metal, strewn about. In other words, the only friendly face the Eyeball had in the room was the low self-noise of the NT2A. At $399 street-price, it’s a bit more than some hobbyists will spend on a microphone, but it’s the least expensive multi-pattern microphone I’ve found so far that performs well and my guess is that cardioid results with the single pattern Rode NT1A at $229 street would be just as good, with the microphone’s lower self-noise.

The vocalist performed a short excerpt from Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” three or four times with each microphone pick-up pattern with the Kaotica Eyeball than did the same for each of the three patterns without, all at a forte to fortissimo dynamic in a chest voice. The results were then analyzed both using objective measurements and by ear. Be aware that in many scenarios the numbers would be more pronounced than in this test and this should be considered a worst case scenario for this type of performance.

Background noise was changed in character (subjectively, it was less harsh and distracting) with a more even frequency distribution across the spectrum. No attempt was made to denoise, but the average RMS noise level was reduced by 1.5 to 3dB in many of the test recordings when the Eyeball was used. The voice sounded more rounded and reinforced, early reflections were de-emphasized and the word “thing” in particular stopped sticking out in the line so much – a word that originally stuck out.

In the case of the cardioid pattern recordings, the peak level in the vocal recording was roughly 4.4 dB louder than without the Eyeball. With the omni pattern, the difference in the peaks was roughly 8.0 dB. The figure 8 pattern had peaks roughly 8.3 dB louder. Across all patterns, the Eyeball greatly reduced early reflections, tail and the general room influence on the sound. Using the Eyeball made a bigger difference in neutralizing the room than switching mic patterns: the figure 8 and omni pattern recordings that used the Eyeball emphasized the sound of the room even less than the cardioid recordings made without the Eyeball.

Subjectively, the combination of a figure 8 pattern with the Eyeball resulted in a very robust sound that would be my first choice for voiceover recording while the omni pattern with the Eyeball was a good choice when proximity effect wasn’t a desired and a more neutral frequency response was preferred to a fuller sounding low end. Neither pattern was normally practical in that recording space, due to the exposed sound of the less than ideal acoustics. The cardioid pattern responded largely as expected, with a frequency response distinct from the other two: a bit more bite than either, less neutral than the omni and less low-end emphasis than the figure 8. In other words, about what you would expect without the Eyeball.

 

Additional Info for Voiceover Recording

Using the same setup as for the singing test, the voiceover recording test (performed at a moderate level) was conducted using figure 8 only. When the Eyeball was used, the noise level was roughly 1.5 dB quieter, while the peak vocal level was at least 2.9 dB louder in the first section a 4.4 dB improvement to the de facto S/N ratio. In other sections of testing, that ratio increased to 4.91 dB.

Subjectively, the tone was rounder, less distracting and closer to recordings made in a professional VO environment when the Eyeball was engaged than when it was not. As mentioned earlier, this is pretty much as close to a “must-have” for voiceover recording in a less than ideal environment as you can get, once you’ve got a decent microphone.



 

Mixing Thoughts



Let’s assume that you aren’t using a low-cut filter on your mic or input chain. If you find that using the Kaotica Eyeball gives your vocal a darker sound than you’d like, here’s an EQ approach that may help. Try a band cut near 90 Hz and applying band boosts at either 3 KHz or 10 KHz (or both). Typically, 1.5 to 3dB adjustments in those bands did the trick, at least on the male vocal recordings I used the analysis portion of the review. As a general note, smoother spectrum when using the Eyeball makes a good EQ starting point for beginners since there is much less likely to be anything “distracting” standing out in the high mids or highs than without the Eyeball.

The Eyeball’s ability to de-emphasize the character of the room has a big impact on the effectiveness of using reverb as an effect in the mixing process, making it much more flexible. The voice becomes much easier to place pretty much anywhere: I found it easier to use external reverb to control how distant or far away the sound appeared with the Eyeball than without, since there was less of an environment “baked in” to the sound. This was true both with convolution and algorithmic reverbs.

 

You Can’t Have Everything

As great as the Eyeball is, it can’t make “everything” better. I had originally hoped that it would do more to decrease the overall noise level in regards to things like fans and computer noise. It turned out to be better at reinforcing the sound of the vocal and neutralizing overall room acoustics. The effectiveness of the product declined the further away the sound source was from the Eyeball, and the reinforcement seemed to work best with vocals, so the Eyeball is primarily limited to vocal recording (though the marketing never claims otherwise) and yielded little improvement in my limited percussion and foley experiments.

Of course, Kaotica never marketed the Eyeball to address the things mentioned above, so it’s not surprising that nothing came of my tests … but it was worth looking at, nonetheless. And I shouldn’t put too fine a point on the noise issue: on one track I used it to multi-track a female vocalist into double-digit numbers of concurrent voices and was able to use the results in a busy mix without noise reduction. I didn’t run a control test, but using the Eyeball we were even able to keep tracking while a helicopter flew by without the background noise getting too far above the pre-existing noise floor. Handy indeed!

 

So Who Needs A New Eyeball?

If you’ve been reading carefully, you probably know what I’m about to say: if you’ve got a decent mic but a less than ideal acoustic environment, then the only question is how much vocal recording you do. Because pretty much anyone that does a lot of vocal recording and has a couple hundred dollars to spare should be looking at this product.

On the other hand, if you’ve already got a great vocal booth, you probably don’t need this. If you have a highly desirable acoustic environment that you prefer to use, you probably don’t need this (unless you want an additional sound option for VO). If you don’t record a lot of VO or singing, you probably don’t need this.

Now for all the rest of us … this should pretty much be the first thing you get for your vocal recordings after you’ve got your first good mic hooked up. It’s really that simple.

Ginno’s Sound Investments

Ginno Legaspi looks at an even dozen libraries from Loopmasters, Zero-G, Big Fish Audio, Sample Magic, Blue Zone Corporation, Best Service and Renaissance Sounds.

by Ginno Legaspi, May 2014


Loopmasters – Classic Synthology

Desktop musicians are so spoiled these days (aren’t we all?). It’s a good time to make music because gear is now so affordable and readily available. But what about those behemoth machines from yesteryear that are hard to find and so expensive? Yes, I’m talking about those vintage synthesizers and classic drum machines that are still quite an arm and a leg to buy. Who can afford a Yamaha CS-80 original Minimoog on eBay?  Seriously!

Fortunately, Loopmaster has the bit of solution when it comes to integrating classic sounds into your productions. Meet Classic Synthology – a 1GB sample library of synthesizers, drums and basses designed to help you with your analog needs. This was recorded and produced by Harvey Summers at Broad Oak Studios using some of greatest classic synths such as the Yamaha CS-80, Arp 2600, Minimoog, Moog Taurus Mk1, Korg MS20 and Korg M1. They were then heavily processed using high-end studio hardware including Neve and RCA preamps, Eventide H3000 D/SX and an DMX 15-80S for that warm, vintage sound. To those who produce wicked techno, groovy house, dubstep, electro and all forms of electronic music they will be happy to find wide pads, punchy synth basses, lead lines, one-shot percussions, EFX and other cutting edge sounds. Definitely the sounds contained in this sample pack are for modern production of electronic music. Material-wise, the basses are my favorite of all the sounds. They just have that saturated, fat sound in them. I also love the one-shot drum sounds that were made with Korg Wavestation and M1. They don’t sound (obviously) digital at all – so I was a bit surprised how ‘gritty’ sounding they are. An evidence that if samples are treated properly (with care and expertise), they can sound completely new.

Not only that you get plenty of loops from this library, the content is good and well recorded. If you’re a producer looking for a fantastic collection of fresh EDM sounds to inject into your dance-electronica productions, this is a sample pack won’t disappoint.

WEB:

www.loopmasters.com

FORMAT:

WAV, Apple Loops, Rex2, Live, Kontakt, Halion, EXS24 and NN-XT

PRICE:

$50.44

 

Zero-G – Urban Symphony

Urban Symphony is a new soulful delight from UK’s sample-smith giant Zero-G. It is a diverse collection of orchestral sounds designed to work in dance, Rn’B and hip-hop compositions. This library weighs in at about 1.5 GB, and includes all major audio formats such as WAV, AIFF and REX2 files…all in high quality 24-bit. Also, popular sample player formats are provided if you have EXS24, Kontakt, Halion or NN-XT software samplers. Content-wise, the included samples are broken down into 3 separate descriptive folders of Orchestral Sessions, Harp Loops and Piano Loops. In total, there are 727 orchestral phrases to light up your productions.

Like many of Zero-G’s sample libraries, Urban Symphony is an exceptionally well-constructed library. It was made using high-end equipment and modern production techniques were applied in recording and mastering the samples.  The orchestral phrase folder has some really nice gems in there. I especially like the violin solos because they are played with emotion. The bonus acoustic piano loops sounded well recorded with just the right amount of ambience, as well. Overall, this a library to consider if you want to inject some smoothness into an otherwise heavy hip-hop track or if you want to add some emotional spice into your Rn’B grooves. This is hot.

WEB:

http://www.timespace.com/

FORMAT:

Acid Wav, Kontakt, EXS24, REX2, Aiff Apple Loops, Halion and Reason NNXT

PRICE:

£59.95 including vat

 

Sample Magic – SM White Label Amsterdam Tech-House

Are you ready to put some special magic in your tech-house track? If so, take a look at Amsterdam Tech-house – a 24-bit sample library suitable for desktop musicians who are in the electronic, house and techno scene. This title is chock full of sounds with a hard hitting style. Inside this collection are punchy drum patterns, strong basses, sun-drenched synths, top loops, drum hits (hi-hats, kicks, percussion hits and snares) and a goodly amount of FX sounds. I love the included drum loops – great sounds from start to end. I think it’s the pack’s strongest point. Additionally, the synth loops and FX are decent enough for a song starter. If you’re running out of ideas, then my advice is to resort to these folders. Overall, this 400 MB packs enough sample content to get you bangin’ immediately in the studio. The quality of this inspirational dance samples is superb and what you’d expect from Sample Magic.

WEB:

www.samplemagic.com

FORMAT:

Wav, Apple Loops, Rex2, EXS24, Kontakt, Abletom Drum Rack and NN-XT

LIST PRICE:

£ 16.90 (digital download)

 

Big Fish Audio – Guitar Sessions: Indie and Alternative Guitars

When I received the new guitar library from Big Fish Audio called Guitar Sessions: 

Indie and Alternative Guitars, I was anxious to give it a spin because I have been constantly reviewing electronica sample packs for the last four issues of SoundBytes.  A little change in review material gives my review column a bit of a flavor. 

Guitar Sessions: Indie and Alternative Guitar is part of a growing Xtended Series from Dieguis Productions in which the focus is to deliver samples in a massive construction kit manner. Like many of Big Fish Audio’s sample library, this pack has 25 song-based construction kits included. Each construction kit (or folder) consists of a mix file along with multiple sections (intro, verse, chorus) of loops. There are also several loop variations thrown in as well. This library is delivered in industry standard formats such as WAV, Apple Loops, REX, RMX and Acid, and are all wrapped up in a 5.8 GB download. Should you prefer the Kontakt format (given that you have the full version of Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler), that is also available for download. Guitar is the name of the game of this product and if your cup of tea is in the likes of Electric Six, R.E.M. Temper Trap, Minus the Bear or Imagine Dragons, you’re in for a treat. This incredible stringed instrument library contains different styles of guitar sounds that includes heavy guitars, muted, effected, ambient guitars, clean and distorted guitars and many more. With different styles of playing such as strumming, picking, riff and slides this sample pack covers a wide range of sub-genre in rock.

As I was going through each folder, auditioning was a blast with Guitar Sessions. I love how the guitars were well recorded – they are clean and the signal is strong and punchy. There’s a lot of presence in the mids, too, without sounding harsh. The performance of each loop is absolutely top notch. I’m guessing that the guitar player is a well-seasoned musician because this person has some serious chops. The mandolin and the electric slide guitar licks are a good testament to that. So, if you’re looking for a library with a blend of licks, riffs, picking, strumming and slides, Guitar Sessions: Indie and Alternative Guitars might be for you. It is a package that covers a wide range of sub-genre in rock.

WEB:

www.bigfishaudio.com

FORMAT:

Apple Loops, REX, WAV, RMX, Acid, Kontakt

PRICE:

$129.95

 

Bluezone Corporation – FMJ: Dramatic Soundscapes and Textures

Bluezone has become one of those “tier 1” sample developers when it comes to soundscapes, textures and special effects libraries. Over the years, their catalog of ambient/cinematic sample packs just exploded to enormous quantity. It looks like there is no stopping now for this French company. So for this month, I have the privilege to review FMJ: Dramatic Soundscapes and Textures.

Like it predecessors, this sample pack offers the same familiar structure of Bluezone libraries; over a hundred set of genre-specific samples included in 24-bit WAV format. It’s a small pack with a size of just over 600MB, but the content is great. The library is broken into 3 main folders of Impacts, Melodic-Textures and SFX-Textures. Impacts are what you call “one-shots”. They are impact sounds that are larger-than-life. These reverb-immersed sounds are good for movie scores as well as TV soundtracks. The Melodic-Textures samples can be used in the background for an ambient piece or simply a bed for drone compositions. What I like about these sounds is that they are evolving, not static-y (for lack of better term). In the FX-Texture folder, I find the atmosphere samples have a very spooky vibe.  They are meticulously programmed, though, but with a twist. Plenty of horror soundtrack producers will find this set of samples inspirational day in and day out. In closing, if you are short of inspiration and needed a spark, this library might just do the trick.

WEB:

www.bluezone-corporation.com

FORMAT:

WAV

PRICE:

€ 12.95 (digital download)

 

Loopmasters – Aethers 01

Aethers 01 joins the ever-growing Loopmasters library catalog to provide desktop musicians, live PA artists and producers a sampling resource for creating cinematic, ambient, soundtrack , IDM and drone music. This library is the fruition of the inventive minds of Loopmasters, Ultimae Records and Vincent Villuis aka AES DANA (Ultimae ambient artist). 

When it comes to loop libraries, Loopmasters knows how to deliver, and they don’t disappoint either. Aether 01 features a whopping 3.17 GB of 44.1kHz samples in 24-bit rate. Audio formats include Acid WAV, Apple Loops and REX2. Sampler patches for Kontakt, Halion, EXS24, NN-XT and SFZ are included as well. If you use Ableton Live, a Live Pack version can be purchased separately. Here’s a breakdown of samples in this collection:  11 ambience things, 29 Ethereal Atmospheres, 24 Interferences, 26 Dark & Deep Atmospheric loops, 24 Drone loops, 35 Ethereal Loops, 105 Drum Shots, 51 drum loops and 50 Field recordings. These loops were made using the best in gear technology and some “secret” audio tools that AES DANA does not want to reveal.

So what makes Aether 01 an appealing pack to its potential customers or producers? Well, for starters the loops and samples on it sound interesting, fresh and useable. You’ll find a wide range of material that will work well in an ambient and IDM context. Also, the 51 drum loops are just superb, with each and every one of them just programmed perfectly. I love the subtle use of click sounds in background of the loop – very innovative drum programming there. Overall, this is a beautiful library with plenty of sounds to choose from and a spot-on to the ambient genre’s distinct sound that plenty of producers could make use of in a long haul.

WEB:

www.loopmasters.com

FORMAT:

Wav, Apple Loops, Acid, Rex2, Ableton Sample, Kontakt, Halion, NN-XT and EXS24

PRICE:

$50.44

 

Sample Magic – Synth Shots

As the name suggests, Synth Shots from Sample Magic is a hot collection of one-shot synthesizer sounds geared for a wide range of music genres. Its design is to give producers or desktop composers an easy access to a variety of perfectly recorded synthesizer samples. In this collection, there are 1,027 key-labeled shots, chords, bass hits, pads, keys and FX expertly sculpted for almost any genre of electronic music. Don’t expect musical loops or melodic phrases because you can’t find them here. However, if you want to create your own loops, you can load the samples to play in all major DAW samplers such as Kontakt, NN-XT, EXS24 and Ableton Live Sampler. All samples were created using vintage and digital synths such as Moogs, Rolands and Yamahas, and delivered in pristine 24-bit resolution. There’s a good blend of samples here to choose from, and my favorite is the one-shot bass folder. The bass folder has some really aggressive basses that cuts through the mix easily.  

Overall, this is a nice varied collection, and for £24.90 you can’t go wrong.

WEB:

www.samplemagic.com

FORMAT:

WAV, EXS24, Ableton Live Sampler, Kontakt and NN-XT

LIST PRICE:

£ 24.90 (digital download)

 

Big Fish Audio – Modern Gospel Hits

Gospel producers and musicians, rejoice! Greet the new day with Modern Gospel Hits – a new library from Big Fish Audio containing different sketch loops, starter phrases, heavenly hooks and one-shots to give your musical ideas an uplifting boost. This 7 GB construction-based library boasts 24 kits that are neatly organized in folders, with key and tempo information. Within each folder, you’ll find different loop stems such as bass, piano, live drum, organ, lead guitar, pad, synth, electric piano, rhythm, muted, clean & distorted guitar, sax solo, Rhodes piano, string, flute and many more. A “mix” file is also thrown in to give you an idea of how the loops sound like when mixed together. Additionally, each construction kit includes drum hits, drum tracks and drum tracks live folder. The included drum hit samples allows you to create custom drum kits for, say, Reason’s Kong Drum Designer or Ableton Live’s Drum Rack. The amount of loops and one-shots in this collection is staggering. The WAV files alone are 1560 in total. But if you prefer to purchase the Kontakt version, these loops becomes highly customizable. You can tweak the samples in Kontakt at your heart’s content or rearrange the slice, remix, or completely rework each loop to fit with your music exactly how you want. It’s really fun and the possibilities are endless. One thing I like about this sample library is that most of the construction kits are upbeat.

With Modern Gospel Hits, every day is a glorious day in the studio. This is a highly inspirational set of sampling material. With over 1500+ samples, this collection will last you for an eternity. Overall, if you’re looking original worship sounds then this library from Big Fish Audio delivers comprehensive materials to work with.

WEB:

www.bigfishaudio.com

FORMAT:

Apple Loops, REX, WAV, RMX, Acid, Kontakt

PRICE:

$129.95

 

Bluezone Corporation – Dark Movies: Ghostly Ambiences and Sound Effects

It’s good to know that a sample developer company finally has the guts to release a library so epically dark and so scary that it’s named “Dark Movies”. I mean, there are plenty of sound effects and atmospheric libraries geared for horror film music but none has a cool title as this one.

I can tell you, those innovative samplesmiths at Bluezone Corporation don’t sit on laurels. They’ve been churning out library after library for the past several years now, and Dark Movies is the epitome of what a great horror library should be.

Firstly, the sound design of this 760MB library is good. Like many of Bluezone’s libraries, Dark Movies showcases good sound design skills. The sounds have been crafted specifically to the genre and the programming is slick. As I was going through the samples and auditioning them in my DAW, there is some really good content here to be used. The ones I’m particularly fond of are the metal impacts. They sound so huge, clear and have been prepped with the right amount of ambience for TV/movie scores. The high-pitched FX sounds are great for futuristic thrillers and science fictions shows that needed that extra spice. Some samples are just pure scary – especially the scrape sounds. Believe me, they will give you goose bumps.

Ever watched a movie in which a scene just makes you jump out of your seat? Well, that’s the result if you combine a thrilling/scary scene, some good acting and sounds to boot with. Dark Movies offers 160 files that are ready to drop in your favorite DAW and will help you inspire to write your next ghostly piece.       

WEB:

www.bluezone-corporation.com

FORMAT:

WAV

PRICE:

€ 18.95 (digital download)

 

Resonance Sounds – Vintage Movie Vocals 2

This sequel to the Vintage Movie Vocals title definitely is geared toward musicians and record producers needing movie dialogs for their productions. Similar to the first title, this library packs 672 samples with a total weight of 1.11 GB. There are 612 vocal phrases and 61 vintage FX samples that can be infused in dance, electronic and experimental music. If you’re an experimentalist like me, you can further manipulate them using your DAW’s powerful plugins or audio editor favorites such as Sony’s Sound Forge or Steinberg’s Wavelab. According to Resonance Sounds, these samples were taken from very old movies / film dialogues that are in the public domain and all licensed for use under the new Creative Commons license agreement. But the samples themselves were cleaned up in Resonance Sound’s high-end studio, edited and mastered to give you that production-ready sound. What I like about this pack is the variety of vocal phrases it offers – it’s really great for spicing up breaks and drops in a song.  If your arrangement is lacking something in the vocal phrases department, Vintage Movie Vocals definitely has the samples that can take your track to the next level.

WEB:

http://www.resonance-sound.com/

FORMAT:

Wav, Kontakt, EXS24

PRICE:

€ 24.95

 

Sample Magic – Drum Hits 2

Just when I thought that Sample Magic had created and compiled all the drum hits in the world into single huge collection in Drum Hits, they come out swinging with a sequel (dubbed ‘definitive’) that is even bigger and badder than the first release. It’s only natural to outdo yourself, you know.

Presented as the ultimate drum hits collection, Drum Hits 2 is a versatile sample pack of more than 1,500+ drum sounds of kicks, snares, toms, hats, crashes, one-shot FX, percussions and various processed hits that is sure to last you a lifetime. This is one huge collection. For example, the snare folder alone has over 300 sounds to play with. That’s plenty, of course, but I wouldn’t mind having a lot because I prefer having extra sounds at my disposal than a few to choose from. The diversity inside this collection is great, too. You’ll find just about everything you need imaginable. From live to layered and from old school to synthetic…they’re all there. Most of them sound crunchy, punchy and up-to-date. Although the samples are geared towards modern electronic dance productions, they are also designed to work in any genre. So, if your cup of tea is electro rock or ambient there are plenty of samples to work with that is sure to fit into the mix. If you ask me what my favorite samples are in this collection? I would have to say that the “NU Percussion” folder is my favorite one, simple because I love esoteric sounds. The ‘Glitch’ percussions, too, are fabulous to use when creating IDM or glitchy music – overall, a good library with plenty of useable content.

WEB:

www.samplemagic.com

FORMAT:

Wav, EXS24, HALion, Kontakt, NN-XT, Battery, Maschine, Kong and Abletom Drum Rack

PRICE:

£34.90 (digital download)

 

Best Service – Phantom Files 2

Here we have an esoteric sample pack that has a tremendous usability when it comes to ambient, experimental, avant-garde and industrial noise music. Set aside the frightful cover image, Phantom Files 2 is a sequel ready for primetime. Picking up where volume one left off, this library is produced by the diabolical geniuses at Best Service. It has 8.44 GB of total content, in WAV and Apple Loops audio formats. There are loops, one-shots, arps, melodic line phrases and just about every electronic sound you can expect from this type of library. Altogether there is plenty of material for you to twist, mangle or augment into your own tracks. It even has an added feature – phrase MIDI files, which is a surprising bonus. Phantom Files 2 exhibits great sonic quality with plenty of samples included. When I auditioned the sounds using Sony Acid, the processed voice samples are very terrifying and will give you chills when working with them at night. The soundscapes folder is the same story, as they are great for horror compositions and extreme late night movie soundtracks. The rhythm loops will make their way on plenty of electronic productions I’m sure. Overall, this is one enormous library. The soundscape samples alone make it a worthwhile investment. Make The Phantom Files 2 your new weapon for esoteric sounds!

WEB:

www.bestservice.de

FORMAT:

Wav, Apple Loops

PRICE:

€ 49

 

Reach Ginno at: www.facebook.com/ginnolegaspi

 

Review – Minimal by Sonokinetic

Sonokinetic’s Minimal is a Kontakt instrument that offers “Philip Glass in a box”; it is a library which is very true to the spirit of minimalist composing.

by Per Lichtman, May 2014

What Is Minimal?

Sonokinetic Minimal (€199.90 EUR at /www.sonokinetic.net/products/classical/minimal/) is Sonokinetic’s latest orchestral library, joining Tutti, Vivace and Da Capo. It’s a Kontakt Player library (so you don’t need to own Kontakt) and features a large variety of orchestral loops, divided by orchestral section, performed in a style inspired by the 20th century minimalist composers that its name suggests. The loops were originally recorded at 108 BPM in 3 minor keys and 3 major keys  but re-pitch and lock to tempo by taking advantage of Kontakt 5’s Time Machine Pro, whether you are using the player or a full version of Kontakt. The material is best thought of rhythms, beds and colors rather than in terms of melodic phrases.

I don’t review a lot of loop-based products but this one caught my eye (and my ear for several reasons). First of all, it addressed the minimalist style which I developed an affinity for shortly before I was lucky enough to briefly study with John Adams back at the California State Summer School for the Arts over a decade ago. So I wanted to see the extent to which Minimal was true to feeling of that material. Second, the sound quality and performances on offer in the demo videos really got my attention and I was curious to see whether they were indicative of the library as a whole or of the skill of the people that made the video.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of reading the whole review, I’ll do my usual and cut to the chase: the library is both very consistent in the quality of the material and very true to the spirit of minimalist composing and some of the really good performances thereof. You can keep reading if you want the details.

 

What’s the Orchestra Like?

Between the 52 string players, 11 brass players and 12 woodwind players, Minimal’s orchestra reaches 75 musicians before the percussionists are accounted for. If you deployed the melodic  percussion so as to use one player per recorded instrument at the same time, you’d add another five players, bringing the grand total to 80 musicians. In other words, the orchestra size is consistent with several large twentieth century orchestras but don’t look for a 30-player combined violin section or Mahler-esque expansions – you’ve got tons of detail in the sound here, though it’s some of the sweetest sounding detail I’ve heard in an ensemble sample library to date.

The patterns are addressed by each of the four families of the orchestra (woodwinds, brass, strings and percussion) and in a combined families option. To be clear, though certain patterns may highlight one sub-section over others, you do not normally mean that you get access to individual sections within each family. For instance, a string section pattern might contain notes played by the first violins, with the second violins playing harmony beneath and the violas below that (leaving room to fill in the low strings with another part, either from Minimal itself or another library).

With that in mind, here are the numbers of players used in recording the sections.

– Violins I: 12
– Violins II: 12

– Violas: 10

– Cellos: 10

– Basses: 8

 

– French Horns: 4

– Trumpets: 3

– Tenor Trombones: 2

– Bass Trombone: 1

– Tuba: 1

 

– Flutes: 3

– Oboes: 3

– Clarinets: 3, with one of them doubling on the bass clarinet

– Bassoons: 3, with one of them doubling on the contrabassoon

 

– Xylophone: 1

– Marimbas: 2

– Celeste: 1

– Piano: 1

 

What Do the Phrases Contain?

There are different numbers of patterns available for each of the sections. The strings have the most basic patterns (over sixty), woodwinds the second most (over forty), followed by the percussion (over thirty), mixed sections (over twenty) and finally the brass (eight).

While there are fewer patterns for the brass than any other section, the brass phrases in the library are a real highlight.  They offer some really epic and soaring elements that benefit from great performance and recording, capturing some great arcs and repeated notes that I don’t typically encounter in orchestral samples but have long enjoyed in live performances. They can be used as a “glue” or to provide highlights or agitated rhythms.

Using the mixed section means taking advantage of internal balancing within the orchestra, as well as reducing the noise floor even further compared to going section by section. While it also means that the orchestra had a chance to lock rhythms internally so timing might be stronger, I should note that I never found the timing at all distracting when the sections were played individually – in fact, I would sometimes analyze the timing to get a sense for how to get a more human feel as compared to a quantized grid, then apply it to other things as well.

The percussion section has the most difficult brief, in my opinion, since rhythmic beds of melodic percussion are less commonly deployed in many genres than many of the surrounding sections. So it’s not entirely surprising that I found myself somewhat less inspired by these patterns than those in the other sections. Nonetheless, the section can be used effectively when things are very sparse (soloed worked best for me, in fact). It can also add very subtly during a tutti section, but I found I often preferred to write my own parts instead. That said, the performances and recording quality maintain the standard the library set, so if you find material that interests you in the melodic percussion patterns, you’ll have a great sound to work with.

As for the woodwinds, they are so very important in the twentieth century orchestral literature and Minimal really nails some of the performance and color possibilities used by minimalist composers. It was always a joy to deploy these performances and while there aren’t as many as for the strings, I’ve found there’s a ton of variety.

This brings us to the strings. From marches to agitated rhythms, from quiet flowing colors to strong accents, there’s an awful lot to work with here.  This is beautiful stuff. I should say more but that really just captures it right there – beautiful, well-chosen, well-performed material.

One great thing about all of this material is that it always sounds natural and musical. There was never a “phone in” performance and the only way I found to make things artificial was too push the time-stretching too far – really solid.

 

Notation View and Lite Programs

The notation view automatically follows the pattern for each of the 4 sections, but not the key. You have to choose between minor and major by manually highlighting the appropriate square in the upper right. The notation view seemed to default to the last section I had been editing (e.g. the strings family in this case) but the four white squares correspond to the same sections on the main page, so you can switch between them at will.

For those interested in having rapid access to all the patterns, the “Minimal – Conductor Score” PDF can be purchased on the same page as Minimal, with part of the money going to the performers. The score is €40 EUR for Minimal owners using their coupon code, or €99.90 EUR for non-owners.

The Lite programs use a specially mixed “Tutti” microphone position instead of giving you individual access to the programs, a potential savings of time and effort. 

Mixing with Minimal

Minimal was recorded in an eastern European orchestral hall with four different mic positions: close, decca, wide and balcony. The interface allows you to load up to two of the positions at once in each instance and then crossfade between them with a slider underneath. This is quick and easy to use approach to helps to avoid the easy “let’s just turn them all up!” tendency that novice users sometimes deploy in their early experiments with multi-mic libraries. The hall has a nice character, distinct from the soundstages use by VSL or EastWest yet less cavernous than the churches/converted churches such as AIR Lyndhurst. Nonetheless, I found it could be used well with libraries recorded in those spaces if you got creative, especially if a convolution reverb was used to unify to the sound.

The four mic positions and the library’s knack for handling radical EQing without introducing unpleasant artifacts really make it very malleable. I’ve found I keep a handful of external EQ presets nearby to tailor the library to different genres and roles. Adding a low-cut filter and a light bass cut, along with pushing a band in the highs can really help to make the library thinner yet more audible in a crowded mix by making more room for drums, bass, or darker synths. Leaving the library without EQ lends a very warm, rich sound that feels very much like being in the hall. All the detail and grain of a well-recorded orchestra is there and it never feels over-processed, yet I found it difficult to find any undesirable edges to bring out with EQing – though this may be too dark for some applications. Honestly, from a timbral perspective, this might be the most well-recorded library I’ve received for review to date – and it doesn’t hurt that the performances are so full of life, too.

This makes it a great starting point for working with other libraries, too. I found that by using the notation view to look at the parts and then writing them down, doubled in other libraries, I could extend my options even further. For instance, I would take an idea in the strings that used the violins and violas in Minimal and then layer the divisi or close mics in Hollywood Strings with a similar rhythmic articulation for bite and detail. The results using this approach are distinct from those of using EQ alone. I would say that EQ was a more useful approach when I wanted a smoother and more integrated sound and that layering worked better when I wanted to add more heft. Of course you can use Minimal alongside other libraries instead of layering the articulations, having a rhythmic bed in Minimal while you play the melody in one or more of the remaining instruments in another library, for instance.

The ability to see the notation (in full) for each pattern really elevates the usefulness of the library more than I would have thought, making it possible to quickly layer or integrate it with other libraries or score for use with a live ensemble. This makes the library great for power users, but the library is proving equally useful as an instant gratification element.

The patterns in the library were originally performed at 108 BPM and automatically lock to the tempo in your session through Kontakt’s Time Machine Pro time-stretching engine. I found they worked well a variety of tempos (I’m currently using them in several 144 BPM sessions) though there are of course limits.

The performances in Minimal are full of tone and vibe, with recordings that can handle huge amounts of processing because of the sweetness of the original tone. They are at home in large soaring epics but can also be EQed to bring up front detail out of the material.

 

Documentation

Sonokinetic provides several free instructional videos in addition to the PDF documentation and I would strongly urge new users to at the very least watch the “Overview” video before getting started, and preferably read the succinct, informative and well-written manual. While Minimal is quite easy to use in practice, the workflow is different than with most other products so a few minutes getting used to the approach can save a lot of frustration and head-scratching.

When you open up Kontakt (Kontakt Player) you’ll see several zones highlighted with colors. The first one you want to think about is what I like to call “the triad playing zone”, an octave and a half where you hold down three notes at a time to tell Minimal what chord it should start playing. It doesn’t matter what inversion you play the chord in – Minimal will play the same material.

Take a minute to explore how you prefer to work with the library. Do you want the release samples on or off? Leaving them on means that you may have to release last note a little earlier before you hit the next set, or else the release sample may step over your next entrance – but the release samples can potentially make for a more realistic result if you let go of a note before a phrase is complete.

Personally, I often found myself using the sustain pedal to hold a given triad until I played the next one. I won’t go too far into usage beyond that – I’d just be duplicating what the videos say already. Suffice to say that there are many ways to vary the sound and the you can change the relationship between the host tempo quickly for each section: quarter note is locked to tempo, half-note means half-time, etc.

Minor Glitches

I did the bulk of my testing on a Windows 7 64-bit PC running Reaper 4.591 64-bit and in that environment, Minimal was the first library I’d used so far that had some difficulty with Reaper’s “Auto-Arm” record mode. If I was listening to a track that was in that mode, playback could sometimes be a little unpredictable – though the part I’d recorded always played back correctly if I disarmed the track.

There’s a couple of other small issues I occasionally ran into, but there weren’t any show-stoppers among them and my issues more frequently resulted from user error than coding issues. Honestly, I spent much more time enjoying the well-thought out GUI than I did dealing with things like finding “the sweet spot” for dealing with overlapping notes (something I all but stopped having to worry about once I adopted the sustain pedal approach).

 

Conclusion

So what users are going to get the most out of Minimal and is it right for you? I would start by listening to the videos on Sonokinetic’s site to see if the style of any of the patterns appeal to you, because they certainly do to me. If they do, then you a tool that’s equally well-suited to rapidly coming up with textures and colors on a deadline, providing a bed to improvise over or add color to an existing composition (especially assuming that composition primarily uses major and minor triadic harmony). Honestly, I did not find the product especially limited by genre: I used it in realizing mock-ups for concert music, for rapid film and game scoring and even as an element in pop and electronica (or EDM as I’m increasingly being asked to call it ;).

The sound quality and performances here are among the very best heard in a sample library to date and have a unique vibe all their own. Even if you don’t normally pay much attention to loop based libraries, I would seriously consider checking this one out.

Review – Celestia by Impact Soundworks

 

Impact Soundworks Celestia promises heavenly sound design with a vast palette of tonal sounds and textures for creative audio designs. Can it take your listeners into the cosmos?

by David Baer, May 2014

In this installment of Points of Kontakt, we’ll be taking a look at Celestia from Impact Soundworks.  This instrument/library requires the full version of Kontakt 5.3 or later).  Before getting into the details, let me point out up front that this is a bit more expensive than what we typically cover in this column, today’s price being $139 USD.  On the other hand, Celestia is huge, so don’t be scared off by sticker shock.  The other important point is that, to my mind at least, the instrument will probably be of more interest to those involved in producing soundtracks or soundscapes.  There is certainly much purely musical capability within, but the buyer will be paying for a great deal of textural/noise (as opposed to tonal) content.

In Impact Soundwork’s own words: Celestia: Heavenly Sound Design. This instrument is a hybrid composer’s dream: hundreds of synthetic and acoustic sound sources, rich editing, deep synthesis features, and endless ways to create unique variations. Rather than dark and gritty sounds, we instead focused the library and presets on the lighter end of the spectrum…Celestia: Heavenly Sound Design. This instrument is a hybrid composer’s dream: hundreds of synthetic and acoustic sound sources, rich editing, deep synthesis features, and endless ways to create unique variations. Rather than dark and gritty sounds, we instead focused the library and presets on the lighter end of the spectrum…

This first thing one needs to do is to get a sense of the term “heavenly”.  My initial supposition was heavenly as in Elysian Fields, as in Paradise.  But “heavenly” can also mean cosmic, as in the stars and planets in the heavens.  Having spent some time with Celestia, I think it could go either way but I’m inclined to associate more of a cosmic vibe to what can be done with the instrument.

The Big Picture

Celestia provides a two-level playback capability in which two identical playback engines can each play one of the many provided sample sets.  We’ll get to what sounds are provided shortly, but let’s just focus on the overall instrument for the moment.  The main UI (pictured below) consists of the dual layer upper section for sample selection and tailoring, and a multi-purpose lower portion offering the global functions of effects, sequencer and performance controls (portamento, etc.).


Let’s start with the dual playback engines – they are very straightforward.  You select a sound from one of ten categories (much more on these momentarily).  We have the usual selection of volume, pan and tuning (plus or minus one octave).  Three dedicated envelopes are provided for amplitude, pitch and filter.  We have a single LFO for filter only.

The filter can be LP, HP or BP, with adjustable cutoff and resonance and cutoff can be set to track relative to note pitch.  All in all, anyone with even a light exposure to synth programming will come up to speed with little effort.

Only a few controls need explanation.  The Constant and Sample knobs control sample start position.  This can be used in two ways.  Obviously, specifying randomness in the sample start position introduces variation in repeated notes.  But the Constant control, which specifies a fixed offset into samples is of particular use.  Many of the samples have a distinctive attack sound.  Moving the start position a little past this point really gives you a whole new sound, so many of the sample sets actually serve double duty. 

The Monaural button is of obvious purpose.  Many of the samples have a decidedly stereo quality, and in some cases it may be useful to suppress that.

One tab in the lower portion of the screen gives access to the onboard effects (which can be seen in the screen shot above).  From the screen image, you can easily see what’s on offer – all pretty standard fare.  The reverb, however, warrants special attention.  This uses the native Kontakt convolution effect and Celestia comes with a small but lovely set of possibilities (seen right).

What’s significant is that the reverb is more than a reverb in this case.  Think about what convolution does.  Yes, convolution is mostly used to realize rich and natural actual reverberation in most situations.  But convolution processing is actually like an N-drop delay, where N is a very large number, the time between drops is inaudibly short and each drop has a custom parametric EQ setting.  So, convolution can perform all sorts of marvelous sound manipulation.  And Celestia takes full advantage of this with some impulses that have an almost magical affect.  Of course there’s a selection of halls and rooms.  But options like “Extra Shimmer”, “Raindrops” and “Glittering” are something else entirely and cannot be described in words.

The two other lower tabs are for performance controls and a sequencer.  They are pictured below, and I’ll leave it to the images to tell the story.

Cosmic Sounds

Did I mention that Celestia in huge?  How huge?  Just consider that it took me approximately six hours to audition all the individual sounds and the 550 or so factory presets.  The sounds are organized into ten categories: Acoustic, Airy, Bells, Glassy, Motion, Noise, Plucks, Texture, Vocal and Warm.  The entirety of what’s on offer is shown below.

Of course, it’s a tossup with some sounds as to whether they are noise vs. texture, and “Warm” is not a particularly precise designation, but I’m sure you get the idea.

The sample sets can be separated into two major categories: tonal sounds and texture (or noise if you prefer).  In the case of the latter, mostly found in the Noise and Texture groups, you’ll see that many sounds are paired, one of the pair having the NT prefix.  The NT may stand for “No Tuning”, but I think “No Tracking” is a better guess.  The NT sounds all sound at the same playback rate (pitch would not be an accurate word in this case).  All of them sound identical to the middle C sound of the non-NT twin.  This is very convenient in that when layering a tonal sound with a noise sound, the sound designer will only want the tonal sounds pitch to vary according to keyboard position.  And remember, you can tune an NT’s “pitch” up or down an octave, so there’s plenty of flexibility.

As to the tonal sounds, it’s useful to further categorize them as vaguely tuned, coarsely (or rustically) tuned and precisely tuned.  Vaguely tuned samples include various bells and instruments like Gamelan.  Coarsely tuned includes many ethnic sounding instruments, including a number ethnic flutes.  Precisely tuned means just that.  Among these, “Glass Dulcimer”, “Solar System” and “Harpesque” are beautiful beyond words to these ears.

There is a huge number of factory presets pre-programmed that mostly layer two sounds, although a few just use one layer to good effect.  The presets are reasonably well organized into categories (e.g. “Pads”, “Rythmic”, “Synth Poly”, and “Pads” has four subcategories.  But a word of advice: as you audition the presets, keep notes.  With this ocean of presets, finding your way back to favorites will take a while.

It seems to me that the Celestia user will benefit more from designing custom sounds rather than relying on the factory presets.  It’s utterly simple – so simple that no prerequisite sound design skill is needed to accomplish satisfying results.

Is Celestia for You?

Let’s talk first about the price.  Yes, it’s more than one might be accustomed to paying for a Kontakt library requiring the full player.  But I think the price is probably competitive with a number of other cinematic sound libraries in the marketplace.  I have little experience with that type of library, but I think another valid comparison is to an Alchemy library, which go for around $60 USD apiece.  Celestia provides enough raw material to be the equivalent a couple of Alchemy libraries, so once again, the price is not exorbitant for what you get.

But I do think this instrument will be of most interest to those needing sound-track-type audio.  That’s not to say that exquisitely musical audio cannot be produced with Celestia – it most certainly can.  But Celestia delivers much that will be of little interest to the purely musical composer or performer.  If that describes you, be aware that there’s probably a lot of Celetia’s capability that you won’t be utilizing.

There is an excellent 30-minute video at Impact Soundwork’s web site in which developer Andrew Aversa does an extensive show-and-tell.  Potential buyers will certainly want to check it out here:

http://impactsoundworks.com/products/electronic/celestia-heavenly-sound-design/

 

 

 

 

 

MeldaProduction Dynamic Equalizers: MDynamicEQ – Part 3

Return to Part 2

 

 

Using MDynamicEQ #4: Pumping on Purpose

Yet another variation on the sidechain technique, this one’s more for fun than for remedial effect.

For many genres, compressor pumping is to be avoided. For others it’s an important effect that helps define the genre. One of the advantages of a dynamic equalizer is that it usually doesn’t pump. But MDynamicEQ gives you enough control to make it possible if that’s the effect you’re after.

Traditionally, pumping is achieved by ducking the entire mix from the kick. I’m going to show you an alternate method using the dynamic equalizer. What makes this different is that we’re going to just pump the mid-frequencies rather than the entire spectrum. This will give us a different effect from what we’re accustomed to hearing, but one that’s still rhythmically-pleasing. Basically, low frequencies won’t pump but everything else will.

Place the equalizer on a bus that carries all instruments except the drums (and optionally with lead instruments also excluded), and then route the kick drum to its sidechain input. Place a wide band-shelf filter at around 1.5 KHz and drive it from the sidechain. Set the filter’s attack to 1 ms, release to 80 ms, and dynamic range to -12 dB. Increase the release time to exaggerate the effect, up to a quarter-note’s duration (500 milliseconds at 120 BPM, for example). Increase the dynamic range to further enhance the effect.

Whenever the kick hits, all of the midrange frequencies will be reduced in volume. A long release makes the effect last a little longer than the kick sound itself, so that there is a noticeable gap and ramp-up after each hit. Time the release just right and it sounds as though the entire band is breathing on the off-beat.

Experiment with changing the width of the filter and the release time. The broader the filter and the longer the release time, the more extreme the effect will be. Don’t be afraid to try less-extreme settings in musical genres where heavy pumping would not normally be expected, such as funk, jazz/rock fusion, classic rock and even metal. Yeah, no kidding. Subliminal pumping can add rhythm and excitement to almost any popular genre that’s got a drum track.

 

Using MDynamicEQ #5: De-essing

OK, enough fun. Back to mundane, everyday chores such as de-essing.

Dedicated de-essers are commonplace, but in reality de-essing can be accomplished with any compressor that offers a filtered sidechain. This works because vocals are monophonic (“monophonic” in the sense of one note at a time), so it’s OK to pull down the entire spectrum to soften “S”s, “T”s and “K”s.

But what if you’re dealing with multiple voices on one track, or a vocal and instrument sharing one track? This can complicate de-essing, and filtering in general. With a dynamic equalizer you can dial in just the offending frequencies and thus apply gain reduction that won’t affect whatever else is sharing the track.

When using a dedicated de-esser or a multiband compressor, you’re usually expected to zero in on a fairly narrow band of frequencies. That works fine – if your problem happens to be confined entirely to said narrow band of frequencies.

But “essiness” is an acoustical problem, or more specifically, a microphone problem. Exactly which frequencies are involved depends on resonances within the microphone, and it isn’t always a single tidy center frequency. Sometimes it’s two or three separate and unrelated frequencies, some of which are broader than others, and they may not all be active at the same time.

This is where a dynamic equalizer saves the day. Start with the Sonogram view, pausing it on a few representative “S”s (or “T”s or “K”s). This will tell you which frequencies are causing problems and let you precisely position one, two or three filters over them. Just drag the node’s vertical dynamics arm downward until you start to hear a lisp-like effect, then back it off until the vocal sounds natural again.

 

Using MDynamicEQ #6: Adding Thump to a Kick

Several plugins for beefing up kick drums have appeared over the past couple of years. Some of them work well, while others are merely cleverly disguised equalizers.  A couple of them even use dynamic equalization. But why buy a separate one-trick pony when you’ve already got MDynamicEQ?

Giving more body to a kick drum can sometimes be as simple as a band-pass filter, especially if you’re using unvarying samples. And frankly, if you’re using an 808-style gated sine wave as your “kick” you don’t need this procedure at all. But if you’re dealing with real acoustic drums played by a real human, and especially if you’re working with just a full stereo drum mix, then dynamic EQ is just the ticket.

The procedure is simple: enable a single filter, give it a narrow bandwidth, boost it and sweep it around until you find the right frequency that makes the kick cut through. That might be as low as 50 Hz or as high as 150 Hz, depending on what other frequencies its’ competing against.

Once you’ve found the ideal frequency, bring the filter node back down to the center line and drag the vertical arm upward. This turns the filter into an expander. Now, you’ll get a boost that’s dependent upon the signal level. Quiet hits will get the greatest boost, while big hits get less.

This even works on a full drum mix because you’ve dialed in a specific frequency, so the expansion won’t affect the snare, hi-hat or cymbals – just the kick (and potentially toms, if they extend down into the same frequency range).

 

Using MDynamicEQ #7: Artificial Double-track

This technique makes use of two unique features of MDynamicEQ, the harmonic filter and the invert button, to artificially create a sense of width in a track. This is accomplished by applying complementary filter settings to two copies of the same track.

Insert an instance of MDynamicEQ on a rhythm acoustic guitar track. Activate one filter node and set its frequency in the midrange of the instrument. Open the filter settings and enable the harmonic filter by pushing the Depth slider up to 80% or higher. Give the filter a fairly narrow Q of 4 or higher and a gain reduction of 12 dB or more. Use the sonogram to find the second harmonic of the guitar and position the filter over it. The guitar will be sounding a little strange now, because we’re effectively applying a comb filter.

Next, clone the track and the MDynamicEQ plugin, but on the clone click the equalizer’s Invert button. Pan the original and clone hard left and right, respectively, and level-match them. Now you’ve got two identical tracks but with complementary filters that create a spectral difference between them. Combined, they still represent the full spectrum, but your ears will register two different-sounding tracks and create an illusion of width.

For an even stronger effect, use two filters, one reducing gain and the other increasing gain. Offset them from one another frequency-wise.


Tip: with the above setup, try changing the harmonic intervals via the “Semitones” setting. Depending on the track, you may get more dramatic results with either smaller or greater intervals.

Using MDynamicEQ #8: Master Bus Enhancer

This one’s fun and easy. Just insert MDynamicEQ on the master bus and enable between 3 and 5 gently-overlapping filters. Leave them all on the center 0 dB line but pull the dynamic grab handles upward for each of them. Start with a 6 dB boost and tweak to taste.

What this does is boost each band whenever the level for that band is low. The amount of boost is proportional to the signal level for that band.

Note that it will raise the overall level, so you’ll likely have to adjust the output gain downward to compensate. Once you’ve got clearly-audible stuff happening, use the Dry/Wet control to back it off until it’s just enough that you can hear the difference when you bypass it.

But Wait, There’s More!

MDynamicEQ has even more tricks up its digital sleeve than are immediately apparent. Here are a few of the more notable features that haven’t been mentioned yet.

Resizable GUI

It’s incredible that in 2014 a truly resizable GUI is still considered a notable feature. But VST plugins have historically been limited to fixed-size GUIs due to bitmap-based graphical elements that cannot be easily resized. The vast majority of effect plugins are still fixed-size.

The entire MeldaProduction product line, however, features resizable GUIs (except for the freebies, but they can be upgraded to get resizable GUIs too). As an old guy with old eyes, this is a feature I really appreciate. I’ve set my default size to 160%.

Customizable GUI

If you prefer knobs over sliders, there is an option to use knobs. Personally, I like knobs because it’s easier to see where things are at a glance. The downside is they take up more screen space.

Some colors are configurable, and you can change the default value for any parameter. Click on the main Settings button in the upper-right corner and select “Style”. Go ahead and play around with it; you can always revert to the factory defaults via Settings -> Reset default editor size and style. 

In addition to the built-in adjustments, there is also a separate (free) style editor for Mac and PC that can be used with all MeldaProduction products. Beware, though; it’s notoriously complicated. Maybe I’ll do a write-up on it someday, assuming I ever figure it out myself.

Easy Mode

Impatient? Turn off the big editor by clicking on the “Edit” button at the top and go to a simplified quick-start view. You’ll see a list of presets, and the meters. Choose a preset and four controls will appear that actually adjust multiple parameters at once. It’s a fun way to dive in right away. Of course, if you find a nice preset that’s close to what you want, just click on the Edit button to tweak it.

Mid/Side Processing

MDynamicEQ has a Mid/Side mode that lets you apply dynamic equalization to just the Mid, just the Side or both, configurable separately for each filter. This can be helpful for surgical corrections at the mastering stage, or as a widening technique.

GPU Acceleration

We’ve only seen this from a few leading-edge developers so far, because it’s technically tricky to implement properly. FabFilter started doing it last year, and MeldaProduction started this year with the version 8 release.

GPU Acceleration is enabled by default, and the setting is global to all MeldaProduction plugins. If for some reason your video adapter has a problem with it, as some older cards might, you might need to disable it.

Sidebar: Disabling GPU Acceleration Outside the Plugin

 

What if the GPU Acceleration feature causes you video adapter to go nuts to the point where you can’t even get to the setting to turn it off? Here’s how to disable GPU Acceleration outside of the plugin.

 

Create a one-line text file with the following text in it:

 

                    <GPU Enable=”0″/>

 

Name the file GPU.XLS and save it in the same folder where the MeldaProduction presets are. For Windows 7/8, that will be c:\users\{user_name}\AppData\Roaming\MeldaProduction. You may need to reboot your computer.


Limiter

New in version 8 is an optional safety limiter, with a fixed limit of 0 dB. It’s disabled by default, and is usually not needed.

AGC

Automatic gain control (AGC) is a feature that, when engaged, adjusts the output volume to automatically match the input volume. This is an actual loudness correction based EBU loudness specifications, not a simple level adjustment.

AGC is off by default, and I only recommend using it when you’re applying extreme EQ settings, to help avoid the phenomenon wherein a change seems to make it sound better when in fact it’s just making it louder.  Don’t bother with AGC if you’re making gentle mastering corrections, or when using the plugin for ducking. It can get confused if you have wildly-varying levels such as an instrument with a prominent tremolo, or if you’re using very long attack and release settings.

Morphing

There are eight quick-preset slots where you can store settings for fast access, either to manually invoke them or to automate switching between them via MIDI CC events. Up to four of them can be switched or morphed.

Featured in several MeldaProduction products, the ability to morph between configurations is a novel creative tool. “Morphing” means a gradual change from one to the next, as opposed to an abrupt switch.

Morphing can be done via an XY pad, so you can blend any combination of the four morph-able presets to create a new combination, which can then be saved as a separate preset.

Oversampling

Up to 4x oversampling is provided, although this should only be necessary if you’re using very fast attack times that might cause distortion at low frequencies.

As a general rule, equalizers don’t need oversampling because they don’t generate harmonic distortion. However, dynamic equalizers could theoretically do so under the right circumstances. I have tested MDyamicEQ for aliasing, and was unable to detect any with even the most unrealistic of extreme settings and no oversampling.

Soft Saturation

A common feature across many MeldaProduction plugins, this allows you to add in some subtle saturation. In this context, “saturation” means adding a small amount of level-dependent harmonic distortion. The effect is subtle, even at 100%, unless the input is driven very hard.

The Dry/Wet Control

The Dry/Wet slider is not a true wet/dry mix control in the conventional sense, like you’d see on a compressor. Such a control on an equalizer would be prone to undesirable comb filtering due to the unavoidable phase shifts in a minimum-phase equalizer, which is why you rarely see a wet/dry mix control on EQs.

Instead, the dry/wet slider modulates the intensity of the filters. You don’t use it to blend the dry and effected signals like you would for parallel compression, but rather as a convenient way to globally moderate the plugin’s effect.

I usually set up the filters such that their actions are clearly audible and obvious, and then use the wet/dry slider to back off the overall effect until it becomes suitably transparent for the application. Initially over-emphasizing the effect makes it easier and quicker to set up, but then you’ll subsequently make those settings more subtle so that they melt into the mix.

The dry/wet parameter can also be automated, if you want to gradually bring the effect in or out for different parts of the track. For instance, if you’re using MDynamicEQ to beef up the kick drum, you might elect to back the effect off during the verse and bring it in on the chorus.

Inversion

The “Invert” button reverses the static gain settings of all filters. With this you can clone an instance of the plugin from one track to another and make them mirror one another. Why would you do this? One common application is to create artificial width from cloned parts that weren’t actually double-tracked.

Advanced Filter Settings

This last bit is for the tech-heads only. For most users most of the time, level transformation isn’t something you’ll need to know about. For most of us, it’s enough to just know it exists, just in case.

“Level Transformation” refers to the way in which signal levels are modified, either to increase or decrease them based on the input levels. Click on the “Advanced” button to get to the controls that let you customize the level transformation algorithm.

First, there is a “Shape” selection. This is a pretty obscure setting even for tech-heads, so I’ll just give you the short version and refer you to the user manual for further information. The bottom line is this: leave it at the default value (“Squared”) and you’ll be OK, but try the linear mode on tracks that have some very large peak events but are otherwise fairly level.

 We also have the ability to customize the transfer function. This is a relatively rare feature among dynamics processors in general and even rarer among dynamic equalizers. It’s not a feature you’ll use every day (or maybe never), but worth becoming acquainted with.

I mentioned earlier that there is no “ratio” parameter in the dynamics section. Normally, it would be superfluous. But when the plugin was initially in beta, many early users were critical of the lack of a ratio control. If you’re among them and feel that you do need to alter the compression characteristics you can, via the Level Transformation screen.

A transfer function describes the ratio of input to output. In other words, how a dynamic filter will respond to different input levels. Typically, a compressor’s transfer function is displayed in a graph that looks something like this.

This shows an input-to-output ratio that’s 1:1 up to -24 dB, after which gain is reduced. Most compressors also let you adjust the abruptness of the transition (the “knee”), but that’s all the control you normally get.

But suppose, for example, that we wanted to use a filter as more of a limiter than a compressor alone, applying more extreme gain reduction on the loudest notes and gentle compression to the rest.

iZotope Ozone’s multi-band compressor provides a good example of such a two-stage transfer curve, if you’re familiar with that plugin. MDynamicEQ takes that concept further, not limiting you to a two-stage curve but letting you define as complex a curve as you like.

Note that you’ll need to click on the Enable button before you can edit the transfer function’s shape. For a bit of fun, try loading in some of the presets, which range from sensible to bizarre.

Double-click to create a new point on the graph. Use the mouse wheel to smooth a point. To delete a point, click on it and press the Delete key on your keyboard.

The Shift slider moves the whole graph up and down, increasing or decreasing the dynamic gain. The Scale slider scales the whole graph in and out, but beware: this isn’t just a visual effect but actually scales the transfer function.

Finally, we have an optional band-pass filter that can be applied to the input signal before its level is evaluated. Which frequencies are evaluated is normally determined by the Mode setting, but that assumes the same band as the filter. If we need to narrow it more precisely, this additional band-pass filter may be added into the chain. For example, if you wanted to reduce hi-hat bleed in a snare mike, you could zero in on the hi-hat frequency this way.

In Summation…

MDynamicEQ initially earned a place in my toolbox as a specialty fix-it utility. But I kept finding new places where it worked better than a conventional equalizer. After a few months it had graduated from “specialty” to “essential” status. Then, somewhat to my surprise, it eventually became my default go-to equalizer for just about everything.

It can be surgical or it can be broad. It’s at home on any track or bus, including the master. It can be a conventional EQ, a problem solver, or both at the same time. For example, you can level a vocal, shape its tone, and apply de-essing – all in one plugin instance! Or duck a bass over the kick and enhance its transients at the same time.

Yes, it’s probably deeper than any EQ you’ve ever used. There is a learning curve, for sure. But don’t be intimidated; the payoff is worth the effort.

 

Next Up: MAutoDynamicEQ

MAutoDynamicEQ is MDynamicEQ’s big brother. It’s similar in appearance and offers all the same features, but adds some tricks. It has seven bands instead of five, for example, and some additional controls on the main screen.

But the big difference is the automatic configuration feature, which allows you to quickly and conveniently set up complex equalization curves based on a reference. That reference can be a track within the same project, an external reference, or a hand-drawn spectral curve.

Because spectrum-matching is a big subject in itself, MAutoDynamicEQ will get its own installment in this series, which you’ll find in the July issue of SoundBytes Magazine.

And After That, MSpectralDynamics

MSpectralDynamics shares a common algorithmic heritage with its cousins MDynamicEQ and MAutoDynamicEQ, but approaches dynamic equalization from a different angle. When used as a broadband leveler, instead of you telling it what to fix, MSpectralDynamics pretty much figures that out for you. All you have to do is tell it how aggressive to be about it. It’s a sophisticated, next-generation intelligent plugin and I like it a lot, so I’m looking forward to telling you all about it in Part Three of this series.

 

Investigating Further

As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, this plugin is deep! Too deep to cover every feature here. If this review has piqued your interest, I recommend downloading the user manual and the demo and having some fun with it.

MeldaProduction offers a 15-day trial period for all their products, fully functional with no restrictions and no audio blanking or noise bursts. The developer, Vojtech Meluzin, is extremely helpful and responsive. He’ll usually answer questions quickly via email or the KVR support forum linked below.

Oh, and while you’re visiting the MeldaProduction website, be sure to grab the free bundle. It’s the most useful collection of freebies around.  

MDyamicEQ product page: http://www.meldaproduction.com/plugins/product.php?id=MDynamicEq

MAutoDynamicEQ : http://www.meldaproduction.com/plugins/product.php?id=MAutoDynamicEq

MSpectralDynamics: http://www.meldaproduction.com/plugins/product.php?id=MSpectralDynamics

YouTube overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07Df5kDC9xY&feature=youtu.be (Note: at the time of this writing, this video had not yet been updated for version 8, so some features look a little different now.)

Get the manual here: http://www.meldaproduction.com/download/mdynamiceq_documentation.pdf

Get the plugin here: http://www.meldaproduction.com/download.php?plugin=MDynamicEq

Support forum on KVR: http://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=138

Tutorials: http://www.meldaproduction.com/audiotutorials/equalizers.php

MeldaProduction Dynamic Equalizers: MDynamicEQ – Part 2

Return to Part 1

 

Metering

MDynamicEQ offers excellent metering, displaying several useful pieces of information in one panel. Meters may be hidden when not needed, displayed alongside the main window or in a floating window to save horizontal screen space.

Click on the little button next to the preset selector to show the meters alongside the main window. The button then moves down to the bottom of the meter area; click it again to hide the meters.

To float the meter window, click on the third button from the bottom in the lower-left.

In and Out are self-explanatory. They’re standard RMS/Peak Hold meters. The numbers at the bottom of each are the momentary peak levels. Click on them to reset.

“Side” and “Width” require a little explanation, as you’ve probably not seen such labels in other plugins, or not with the same meanings.

“Side” is an abbreviation for “External Side Chain”, and shows the sidechain key’s level. Note that this meter has no meaning when the external sidechain is not being used.

In other plugins, the Width meter might be called a Correlation Meter. It shows stereo width: the amount of difference between the left and right channels. The greater the difference, the more width you hear. When used on the master bus this can give an idea of how wide your mix will sound. It can also highlight phase-inversion problems.

When the Width meter reads at the bottom of the scale (0%), it means there are no differences between the left and right channels; in other words, mono. When the meter reads at the top of the scale (“Inv”), it means the left and right channels are exact mirror images of one another. That’s usually an accident, is usually undesirable and means your mix is not mono-compatible.

A nice, wide music mix will bounce around from about 30 to 70 percent, depending on the style and genre. The preferred range between 66 and 100% is colored blue, but don’t worry if your mix goes into the lower green area, as long as it isn’t stuck down there all the time. Also don’t sweat the occasional incursion into the red (> 100%) zone, as long as it doesn’t stay there long.

Note that by default, this meter uses EBU pre-filtering to simulate human perception, which helps get a realistic appraisal of how wide your mix sounds. However, as a clinical diagnostic it’s best to turn this off so as to give equal attention to all frequencies. Right-click on the meter to toggle loudness pre-filtering.

In addition to the global meters, there are also meters available for individual filter nodes that show instantaneous and peak levels, plus instantaneous and peak gain reduction/expansion. To access these meters, right-click on a filter node to bring up the filter settings dialog. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to view more than one filter at a time, but I don’t think this is a big deal because you typically only look at them when fine-tuning the dynamics.

Using MDynamicEQ

OK, enough with the technical details. Let’s walk through some real-world usage scenarios.

MDynamicEQ is suitable as either a mixing or mastering tool, for both surgical corrections and broad-stroke coloration. It’s more CPU-intensive than most general-purpose parametric equalizers, so it may never become your go-to track EQ, but it has a surprisingly number of diverse applications for which it is uniquely suited. Sometimes, the extra CPU load is offset by eliminating the need for a compressor that otherwise would be inserted in front of a standard EQ.

For the first example I’m going to insert MDynamicEQ into a vocal track that has some issues with room resonances, the result of having been recorded in a too-small, too-live, too-square room. This is may be the best example of an application that specifically suits a dynamic equalizer better than any other conventional approach.

Using MDynamicEQ #1: Mitigating Resonances

When you first insert the plugin, you’re initially looking at an edit window with 5 disabled nodes. (If you don’t see them, click the Edit button at the top to enter the main editing view.) Double-click on one of these five nodes to enable it. Move it up and down to set its static gain, move it left and right to change its center frequency, just like any garden-variety parametric equalizer.

Sidebar: Static Low- and High-Pass Filters

 

In addition to the five dynamic filters, there are also two static filters that aren’t immediately visible: 12 dB per octave low-pass and high-pass filters, whose slopes can be chosen from a fixed list of values from 6 dB/oct to 120 (!) dB/oct. The high-pass filter is especially useful, on both tracks and busses, for taking out subsonics or reducing low-frequency mud.

 

These are pretty mundane filters, so there isn’t much to say about them – except for one non-obvious tip: how to activate them. To do that, drag from the left or right border of the display.

 

There are little “arms” stretching out vertically and horizontally from the node. The vertical arms adjust the dynamic range and the horizontal arms adjust the width, or Q, of the filter. You can either drag them with your mouse or, for the Q adjustment, use the mouse wheel to widen or narrow the filter.

In this image, we see two filters with differing bandwidths. Note the vertical arms, which show that the left filter is static (arm is centered on the node), while the right filter is using downward gain reduction (arm descends below the node). Both parameters may also be set via the filter settings dialog if you need to enter precise values.

For this particular application, the first thing I want to do is identify the resonant frequencies that need to be tamed. For that, I’ll switch on the sonogram display and play back the track.

The sonogram display might look like just a pretty gimmick, but it’s actually a very helpful visual representation of the changing frequency content of the track. The vertical scrolling over time makes it easy to position a filter over some significant frequency, such as the bright green splotch in the image above.

The first sonogram feature you’ll want to discover is the Pause button, located in the upper-right of the edit window. This freezes the sonogram display. It’s very helpful when you’re trying to identify a short-term event such as a resonance that only occurs when certain notes are sung or played.

In the picture above, we can see that there is an occasional bright spot occurring at about 100 Hz. This is the resonance we want to address. All we have to do is listen for the resonance during playback, freeze the sonogram and place one of the filter nodes atop it. Drag the horizontal (bandwidth) arms so the filter is wide enough to cover the resonance but doesn’t encroach on adjacent frequencies.

And as easy as that, we’ve now got a filter in exactly the right spot to catch that resonance. No hunt-and-sweep, no guessing.

Now that we have the filter positioned, we can set up its dynamic behavior. In this case, our 100 Hz resonance is only a problem at certain points in the track, so we’re not going to add any static gain change like we might do with a normal equalizer. Instead, we’re going to have the filter kick in and apply dynamic gain reduction only when the level gets out of hand.

For that, we’ll adjust the dynamic range by dragging the vertical arm downward to enable compression. I’ve decided that it needs a maximum of 12 dB reduction, so I’ll drag the arm down until it reads “-12 dB”. This determines the maximum reduction that’ll be applied: 12 dB. Alternatively, if you want to enter a precise value, right-click on the node and enter “-12” in the Dynamics setting.

The actual amount of gain reduction will be determined by the amplitude of the frequency band at any given moment in time, and whether it’s above or below the threshold setting. By default, the threshold is silence, making the filter’s dynamics active all the time. Leaving the threshold at silence actually works fine in most situations.

Let’s assume an always-active filter isn’t what I want, in which case I’ll set the threshold to a little below the nominal level of the vocal track. That way, the filter will be largely transparent, applying gain reduction only when needed. So how did I determine where the threshold should be? I used the Analyzer display to observe where the band sits normally versus how high it jumps up when a resonant peak comes along.

At this point, let’s take a brief detour and mention the Analyzer before proceeding with the resonance mitigation example.

The Analyzer

At first glance, the spectrum analyzer may seem very similar to others you’ve used before. But it’s got some nice features, including a few that aren’t at all typical, that make it a standout spectrum analyzer. Useful features include:

  • The very helpful Pause button
  • Optional 1/3 octave and 1 octave modes
  • View Pre, Post or Sidechain
  • Variable opacity
  • Peak detection
  • Frequency and note value of peaks
  • Weighting
  • Optional pre-filtering
  • Auto-listen (sweepable bandpass to audition individual bands)
  • Areas (color-coded divisions on the graph identifying frequency ranges)

 Of all the features listed above, one of the coolest is the semi-transparent overlays that show the frequencies (and note values) of the most-significant peaks. This will allow us to get the precise frequency of the resonance we’re stalking.

In this example, we see that the peak is actually 86.5 Hz. The grid labels aren’t visible in the screenshot, so you’ll have to trust me that it peaks at -6 dB and the nominal RMS level is around -18 dB. That’s how we know that the maximum gain reduction we’ll need is 12 dB, and gives us a threshold target of something below -18 dB.

To set the threshold, right-click on the node to open the filter settings window and enter -18 in the “threshold” box. The quickest way to do that is to double-click on the box and enter a value on the keyboard, although you can also use the mouse to enter any parameter.

Whether or not the initial -18 dB threshold yields enough compression will have to be determined by ear. Lowering the threshold will increase compression. In practice, I usually end up lowering the threshold quite a bit from the nominal level, sometimes all the way down to silence. Resonances can require a LOT of compression.

This explanation for positioning a filter for resonance mitigation may have sounded like a lengthy process, but it really isn’t. It takes far longer to explain it than to do it. I’ve been doing it this way for a couple of years now, and it typically takes me less than a minute to set it up. Of course, there’s going to be the occasional extra-challenging track that takes a great deal more time and effort, but believe me, it would be a lot more work if you didn’t have something like MDynamicEQ on hand.

Using MDynamicEQ #2: Ducking a Full Mix from the Vocal

Adding an external sidechain to a compressor can turn it into a creative effect. Adding it to a multi-band compressor makes it a surgical effect. Being able to do that with a dynamic equalizer with all of MDynamicEQ’s options gives you a dizzying number of both creative and corrective possibilities.

Here’s a simple application: duck a specific band of frequencies in the instrument bus in response to the lead vocal. Granted, there are tools specifically designed to do this, but it’s a good excuse to examine MDynamicEQ’s sidechain features. Plus it actually works quite well for this purpose, especially for a dense rock mix where the challenge is a clear vocal while not raising the vocal as far above the instruments as you would for a pop tune.

The setup for this technique requires that all the instruments we want to duck are routed to a single bus, into which we’ll insert an instance of MDynamicEQ. Then we’ll create aux sends from each of the vocal tracks that we want to drive the ducking effect. Often, that’ll be just the lead vocal.

The idea is that by lowering the band of frequencies that most competes with the vocal, we’ll create a spectral space in the mix for the vocal. This allows us greater clarity from the vocal without having to actually turn it up, or to lower the instruments across the board to the point where they go all wimpy.

After routing each vocal track to the equalizer’s sidechain input, we’ll next want to identify which frequencies we want to duck. MDynamic’s sonogram feature is great for this, because it thoughtfully gives us the option to view the sidechain signal rather than the main audio.

To access this feature, click on the Settings button in the main edit window and select “Side Chain” as the Source. [Note: prior to version 8, there was a large button labeled “Side Chain” in the main window, but this has been moved to the Settings dialog to tidy up the UI.]

Here we see that the vocal’s fundamental frequency is around 200 Hz, but there are significant harmonics at 400 and 600 Hz.

What we could do is place three filters at 200, 400 and 600 Hz and tell them to compress those frequencies whenever the vocal is active.

However, we can get results faster and easier (and potentially more transparently) by using a band-shelf filter that spans the fundamental and the first one or two significant harmonics.

As noted earlier, the band-shelf is a cross between a bandpass and a shelf, reducing (or increasing) the gain uniformly over the specified range of frequencies, as opposed to the normal bell-shaped filter.

In the screenshot below, we’ve applied a single band-shelf filter that encompasses the 200 to 400 Hz range.

We could stretch this out to also include the 600Hz harmonic, or even up to the 800Hz component. For maximum transparency, it’s generally best to use the narrowest filter that works. Start with just enough width to cover the fundamental frequency, widen it until the effect becomes noticeable, then back it off.

In order for the ducking to not be overly obvious, we’ll have to be careful with the dynamics parameters. If the attack is too slow we might miss the leading edge of a vocal phrase; if too fast the effect will be obvious and distracting. The same applies to release times.

After positioning the filter(s), right-click on each filter being used and click on the “Sidechain” button in its Dynamics section. This exposes the filter to the sidechain signal.

One more tip…I’ll sometimes add a second filter in the upper midrange and duck those frequencies, too. That’s where the consonants live, which are the key to lyric intelligibility. If I find that the words are hard to understand, ducking the upper mids will usually clear them right up.

This ducking trick can be amazingly transparent, clarifying the vocal without actually turning it up and without losing instrumental impact. You can use it in anything from a simple ballad to a dense hard rock mix. It works so well for me that I’ve created a preset tailored to my own voice. Now, whenever I’m mixing a project in which I’m the vocalist, I can easily set up the ducking effect with just a few clicks.

 

Using MDyamicEQ #3: Kick and Bass Spectral Conflict Mitigation

This is a variation on the previous scenario, but one that’s more routinely employed: preventing spectral collisions between kick drum and bass guitar that cause the bass to mask the drum.

Traditionally, this is accomplished with a conventional broadband compressor or gate, with the kick drum driving the sidechain input on the bass track to duck the bass when the drum is struck.

The problem with the traditional approach is that the bass is completely ducked by the kick, making it tricky to set up in such a way that the effect isn’t glaringly obvious. Obvious may not always be what you want.  For a less-intrusive, more transparent effect it would be nice to reduce only those frequencies that the kick and bass have in common, a task well-suited to a dynamic equalizer.

Setup is easy: insert an instance of MDynamicEQ in the bass track and route the kick drum to its sidechain input.

Follow a similar procedure to the one described in the previous section, using the sonogram to determine where the kick and bass frequencies overlap most. Place a bell, low-shelf or band-shelf filter over those frequencies.

I prefer a bell-shaped filter because it’s usually not necessary to duck all frequencies, just the fundamental frequency of the kick drum. Depending on the instrument tones and envelopes, there may be no need to duck the bass when it’s playing high notes that don’t actually interfere with the kick.

The filter’s Attack and Release settings are critical in this scenario, an example of when the “Auto” values might not be best. You’ll generally want a fast attack, between 1 and 3 milliseconds depending on the sharpness of the kick drum’s attack. The idea is to start the gain reduction as soon as the kick’s envelope begins so that you hear the drum first rather than the bass.

The release time needs to be short enough that there is no gap between the drum’s decay and the bass coming back in. The exact time depends on the kick drum’s envelope.

Here’s an example of a kick drum waveform, showing times for the attack and sustain portions.

The initial impact is 36 milliseconds in duration, about 25% of the total length of the drum sound.

We’ll probably want at least the first 36 milliseconds of the bass to be overridden by the kick sound, although every track is different and how much of the kick takes precedence will depend on the nature of the effect we’re after. For some genres, such as EDM, it might be appropriate to duck the bass for the full 146 milliseconds or even longer, while a classic rock or MOR pop song might do better with just the initial attack.

For this example, we’ll assume that transparency is the goal, so we’re mostly interested in making the attack phase stand out. We’ll also assume that we want the bass to start fading back in just as the drum fades out. This requires a short release time, perhaps around 10 milliseconds as a starting point and then lengthening it until it sounds right. Once we’ve gotten the release time just right, the kick and bass will act as if they were one instrument, with the kick providing the attack and the bass providing the body.

Yes, I’ve waffled on the exact values here, but that’s because there are variables: the envelopes of the kick and bass, the amount of effect we want, and what’s appropriate for a given style of music. In the end, you have to tweak it by ear, but it always helps to start with a mental image of the instruments’ envelopes and an idea of the timeframe.

On to Part 3

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