Old 12-13-2008, 05:23 AM   #81
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Both generous and insightful.

Title suggestion for the pdf

Yep, my recordings sound like ass!
- The guide to understand yourself and your recordings


Thanks Yep
-W
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Old 12-13-2008, 09:33 AM   #82
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But that is not usually what people are looking for in modern popular music recordings. These days, everything is supposed to be larger-than-life, realer-than-real, hyped and firey without sounding "distorted." We are no longer creating accurate recordings of live performances, we are creating artificial soundscapes that the live concerts will later try to duplicate with studio tricks.
Often this is dead true. There are exceptions to that in some genres like folk and classical where the objective is to just capture the performance in a pure form. But yeah, point taken.

Pop music recordings are often like movies, partly an illusion. It's entertainment. Those actors in the movies aren't really doing some of that stuff either, it's part editing and part fakery.

As opposed to a "concert", a stage play.

There's movies and then there are plays. There's pop and then there are live classical recordings. Unfortunately in music, many people (the listening audience) don't always realize how much of an illusion it really is sometimes.
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Old 12-13-2008, 01:55 PM   #83
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Often this is dead true. There are exceptions to that in some genres like folk and classical where the objective is to just capture the performance in a pure form. But yeah, point taken.

Pop music recordings are often like movies, partly an illusion. It's entertainment. Those actors in the movies aren't really doing some of that stuff either, it's part editing and part fakery.

As opposed to a "concert", a stage play.

There's movies and then there are plays. There's pop and then there are live classical recordings. Unfortunately in music, many people (the listening audience) don't always realize how much of an illusion it really is sometimes.
Yeah. I'm trying hard to avoid value judgments, here, because so many of these kinds of threads turn into philosophical debates. If punk rock bands that sound like a barbershop quartet are your thing, then you can still do it better or worse, regardless of whether I think it is a worthwhile endeavor.

And even in "purer" music, or music that does not immediately announce itself as "produced," there is often a lot of illusion at work. Some famous arranger or composer once said something like, "there's no sound in the world as small as a philharmonic." It was said in the context of making arrangement decisions, that if you wanted a big, in-your-face, dramatic sound, the way to get it was with fewer instruments playing better-defined parts. If you wanted a "soft," distant, less-personal sound, the best way to get it was with the wash of a hundred strings. This was someone who really understood the concept of level-matching, whether he knew it or not.

Careful listening bears this out. A close-miked cello or viola can actually have a very aggressive, throaty, ferocious sound that gives electric guitar a run for its money as king of the "power" instruments. In order to get the same kind of power from an orchestral patch, you have to overlay timpanis and cymbal crashes and horn stabs to get the whole orchestra playing one giant power power chord. Which makes a nifty preset on a Yamaha keyboard, but is a completely unrealistic and fairly silly use of an orchestra.

Get a good acoustic guitar player and singer in a room and try to reproduce the performance on "black horse and the cherry tree" by KT Tunstall. Unless you also have a very capable delay or looper running, it's not gonna happen. Which also means that this apparently intimate, authentic-sounding folk track is actually dependent on amplification, i.e. there is no way to "capture" this sound as a pure performance, because it doesn't exist as soundwaves in open air until it's already been recorded, processed, and amplified.

There are some beautiful records that have been made with minimalist far-field miking techniques (and this is still the norm in orchestral and choral recordings), but they do not produce the sparkling, 20-foot-tall acoustic guitars and massive "voice of God" vocals that have become the norm even in a lot of jazz and modern folk recordings. And speaking of far-field...
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Old 12-13-2008, 03:06 PM   #84
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With any instrument or sound source, the biggest single recording decision to be made is whether is to record in the nearfield or the farfield. These are not just arbitrary words for subjective distances from the source.

The "nearfield" is the radius within which the sound of the instrument is markedly different depending on the location and angle of the mic or listener. The "farfield" is everything outside that radius. The nearfield of most instruments usually ends at a distance about the size of the main body of the instrument itself. So an acoustic guitar's nearfield extends maybe about 3 feet away from the body of the guitar. A drum kit's nearfield extends maybe five or six feet away, and a grand piano's is even bigger.

This distinction is obvious to visualize with a drum kit. If you put a mic right next to the floor tom, it's obviously going to record a lot more floor tom than hi-hat. It is also going to record the other kit pieces disproportionately, according to their distance from the mic. This is "nearfield" or "close" miking. Anywhere we put the mic inside this "nearfield" is going to make a very big difference in the recorded sound, nut just in subtle ways, but in very specific and acute alterations.

In order to get to the "farfield," we have to move the mic far enough away from the kit so that all the drums are heard more or less proportionately, no matter where we angle or place the mic. The mic has to be *at least* as far away from the closest kit piece as the closest kit piece is from the furthest kit piece (e.g. if the outside edge of the floor tom is 4 feet from the outside edge of the crash cymbal, then we should be at least 4 feet away from either one). Changing the mic position or angle in the farfield can still affect the sound, but small changes will not have the same drastic impact on the overall balance as they do in the nearfield. We have crossed the critical line where the individual kit pieces begin to sound like a unified whole.

The drummer's head and ears are in the nearfield, and as it happens, putting all the drums in easy reach has the effect of creating a pretty good balance of sound, so that they are also all about equi-distant from the drummer's head. Nevertheless, the sound that the audience in the front row hears is apt to be quite different from what the drummer himself hears.

This distinction becomes a little harder to wrap your head around (but no less important) when we get into single-body instruments like acoustic guitar. The guitar is shaped the way it is to produce certain resonances from different parts of the body and soundboard. Here's a resonant image overlay showing the vibrations of a violin soundboard at a particular frequency:



As you can see, different physical parts of the instrument are producing different parts of the sound, the same way that individual kit pieces in a drum produce different parts of the overall kit sound. If there were a way to "watch" this happening, you'd see different parts of the instrument's body "lighting up" and moving across the body as different oscillations as various notes and chords sounded and decayed.

So if we point a close mic at one part of a guitar body, we will be picking up a disproportionate amount of the particular resonance of that square inch of the body. Not until we get a few feet away do we get a full, unified, consistent image of the entirety of the guitar sound.

This can work for us or against us. Moving the mic around inside the instrument's nearfield can allow us to highlight certain aspects of the sound, or downplay unflattering aspects of a cheap instrument.
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Old 12-13-2008, 04:08 PM   #85
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I want to try and stay away from specific "recipes" for now, but one thing that bears mentioning by way of illustration is the common mistake made by beginners of trying to record a guitar or string instrument by pointing the mic right in the soundhole or f-hole. If you want to think of a guitar top as a "speaker," the soundhole is like the woofy "bass port" that extends the low end and increases efficiency. It is not usually the most satisfying or flattering place to record.

The most versatile "catch-all" generic starting positions for nearfield single-mic acoustic guitar are usually ones that fire *across* the soundboard, not right at it. The old standby BBC technique was to put a mic close to the strings near the body fret and aim the mic across the top of the soundboard (i.e. parallel), giving a bright, stringy, but fairly balanced sound. Moving the mic closer or further to the strings, or tilting it so that it fires across the soundhole or "misses" it offer quick-and-easy adjustments to the tonal balance. An alternative approach (some might say more natural or full-bodied) is the "below the guitar" position, where you put the mic near the seated player's knee, again firing across the top of the soundboard, angled to taste.

These are starting points, not ending points for finished studio recordings. In fact, they are actually designed to try and "defeat" the most prominent nearfield effects. The point of the example is not to tell you how to mic an acoustic guitar (there are a billion threads for that), the point is to illustrate the reasons why certain approaches achieve different results.

An informed understanding is not a substitute for listening and experimentation, it's just an accelerant that speeds up the digestive process. Like the eq example above, this is not stuff that you can just "think through," but understanding the whys and wherefores can help you to understand the connection between the approach and the results attained, which can in turn help you to make better, more systematic, and more purpose-driven evaluations.

With that in mind, note now that the acoustic guitar player's head, like drummer's head, is also in the instrument's nearfield. But unlike the drummer, the guitar player is not situated in anything close to a representative position-- the audience in row one is typically getting a totally different sonic profile then the guitar player, whose head is to the side of and almost "behind" the guitar, and whose hearing is supplemented by direct coupling through the chest.

This presents a couple of interesting considerations. One is that the guitar player might be quite taken aback by the recorded sound of the guitar, and might feel like nothing sounds right or "feels" right (more in a minute). Another is that monitoring, e.g. through headphones, could be a challenge, especially if you are recording yourself and trying to evaluate sounds while you're playing the instrument.

The headphone mix is one of the most powerful tools that a recording engineer can use to direct and control a performance. This is going to be a very big deal when we get into vocals, but it's worth touching here. You need to know what you're listening TO and what you're listening FOR.

Guitar players are often very finicky about the sound of their instrument, and rightly so. One of the things that makes guitar such a compelling instrument is the remarkable sonic expressiveness of the direct manipulation of the strings by the player. If the player is not hearing what they want, sound-wise, they are apt to change their playing technique to compensate. This can either be a virtuous cycle or a vicious one. For instance, a player who is accustomed to pounding on the strings to get that extra "bite" might start to back off if they have an stringy-sounding headphone mix.

This is what good guitar players do, after all-- they use miniscule and subconscious variations in pick position and fret pressure and picking technique and so on to get just the right balance of chirp and thwack and thump and strum and sing and moan and so on from every note and chord. Whether the subconscious adjustments made for the headphone mix are a good thing or a bad thing is totally subjective and conditional. From a purely practical standpoint, having the guitar player perform "for the mic" is theoretically a good thing.

But whatever we feed to the headphones, the player is always going to hear something a little different simply because the instrument itself is acoustically coupled to his or her body. This is not usually that big a deal, until the player himself is the one making sonic evaluations of the mic position in real-time.

To put it another way, the process of mic placement is essentially self-correcting when it is directed by a dedicated engineer in the control room. The combination of playing technique and captured sonics interact until the engineer is satisfied that she's getting the best or most appropriate overall sound. If you hearken back to the stuff we said about the importance of accurate monitoring at the start of this thread, and then imagine the engineer trying to make decisions with one extra speaker or resonating guitar pressed against his body, then you start to get the idea.

This is not insurmountable. Once again, the careful application of trial-and-error and critical listening can level the playing field, but sadly there is no simple eq recipe or plugin that eliminate this effect.

My point is not to discourage anyone, but to get back to the thread title. You can play good guitar music (or whatever). You can play it so you like the sound of it. Chances are, you have even played it with headphones and have been totally "into" the sound you were getting, maybe even more so than usual. If you have then played it back and been disappointed, it might have something to do with the principles at work here. Maybe that sound that you were "into" while playing was not actually the sound being recorded, but a combination of captured and un-captured sounds. The headphones were not telling you what was "going to tape," they were just supplementing and hyping up the sound of the guitar resonating against your chest. And if you recall what we said about level-matching and louder always sounding better, you can start to see where this kind of monitoring can be misleading, especially if the headphones are giving you a louder overall perception of the sound while you're playing, but not when you're just listening to the playback.

If you've ever been through the above scenario and have been tempted to blame your mic or your soundcard or you preamps, stop and think for a moment-- if they were really the culprit, then why did it sound so good while you were tracking, and only sound worse on playback? Are some lightbulbs going off yet?

More to come.

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Old 12-13-2008, 04:14 PM   #86
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PS I appreciate all the stuff about writing a book or whatever. For now it's all I can spare to post about this stuff now and then as time allows, and I actually like the back-and forth of a forum, even though there have not been too many questions so far. I suspect Cockos technically owns the copyright to stuff published on the forum, but it certainly doesn't bother me if anyone wants to copy and paste into a word doc or whatever for future reference. In fact it is flattering to be asked. In fact I would love to have a copy, if anyone wants to do the work and send it to me, then maybe someday I can clean it up and put in some diagrams and get the thoughts a little better-organized.

But for now there is still a lot more ground to cover, and I have a feeling that there are some more people with good insights as we get into more nitty-gritty stuff.
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Old 12-13-2008, 05:39 PM   #87
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Nearfield vs farfield continued.

Getting back on track, it may seem almost pointless to talk about farfield miking these days, since almost nobody does it anymore, at least not so far as home-produced multitrack recordings go. But at the risk of wasting oxygen on forgotten lore, there is a lot to be said for farfield recording when it can be made to work, and the principles are still valuable to understand as we get into mixing, acoustics, and sound transmission.

In the olden days, the way to get a "big sound" was to get a shitload of musicians in a room all playing together-- lots of guitars, two pianos, two drumkits, horns, strings, woodwinds, shakers, tambourines, background singers, vibes, xylophone, whatever. Then let a big, natural reverberation fuse it all together. If you listen to those old Phil Spector "wall of sound" or "one mic over everything" records, it's hard to make out any particular instrument, or sometimes even the lead vocals. The sound could be huge, but every single instrument is small, just a little bit of texture in the overall effect. This is like that symphonic synth patch referenced above, favorite of heavy-metal intros.

But a lot of things were different in those days. One of the biggest differences was that the musicians were basically considered anonymous, disposable role players. These were the days of house bands and label contracts and separate in-house songwriting and arrangement teams and salaried stars and so on. Pre-Beatles, in other words, the days before guitar gods walked the earth.

Nowadays every musician is supposed to sound like a sonic super-hero. The bass player who earns his living as a professional octave pedal with tattoos and who occasionally plays a leading seventh must be clearly heard, for all to appreciate his seventh-playing prowess in all its glory. The punk guitarist palm-muting quarter-notes in the key of the fretboard dots has to have sixteen tracks lest the chunka-chunka fail to overwhelm and subdue any aspect of the listener's central nervous system. The DJ whose sheer artistry allows him to hold a headphone with a single shoulder while simultaneously operating a fader and playing records must not be made to feel like a second-class citizen by having his performance obscured by more pedantic forms of music.

In other words, putting the band in a room with thirty other musicians and capturing a massive sonic vibe of creative energy is not likely to please the client. Unless of course it is overlayed with double-tracked, close-miked, compressed and hyped-up versions of the "named member" performances.

Even if you eschew the old ways of doing things, it is useful to consider some of the potential of farfield recording, and some of the implications of doing everything nearfield.

One immediate and often overlooked effect of recording nearfield is that reverb applied to a nearfield recording does not sound the same as an actual recording of the performance of the room. People go searching high and low and spending fortunes trying to replicate the old plate and chamber reverbs of yore, trying to get that big, rich, warm, natural sound. All without stopping to think that a reverberated nearfield recording of a guitar does not sound like an old recording of a guitar in a room BECAUSE THE NEARFIELD RECORDING DID NOT RECORD THE WHOLE SOUND OF THE GUITAR.

So when you throw some fancy plugin or all-tube spring reverb on a close-miked guitar sound or drum overhead and it sounds splashy and brittle and artificial, that is at least in part because IT'S NOT PROCESSING THE SOUND OF THE INSTRUMENT IN THE ROOM. It's processing the sound of a surgical capture of an exaggerated microscopic part of the sound.

You cannot make a dehydrated steak taste like real steak by adding water. You cannot do it with vintage water or all-tube water or water with ceramic capacitors or water salvaged from an early session at Sun studios, because the dehydration process changes the chemistry and texture of the steak and alters more than just the water content.

Similarly, and this is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, just a thing, nearfield recording is not the same thing as recording in an anechoic chamber. It's not just "instrument sound minus room sound," it's a distorted and selective recording of particular parts of the sound. "Just add reverb to reconstitute" does not necessarily bring it back to life in the same state it was. If you put a recording of a telephone call through reverb, it is not going to produce a convincing illusion of a person speaking in a room, it's going to sound like a reverberated telephone call. Even if you have the best reverb in the world.

Now, this is not to say that you can't achieve great results with reverberated nearfield recordings, and it's not to say that you even need reverb. And nearfield recordings can often sound better than the actual sound of the instrument in the room, especially if you have a bad room.

But a lot of the double- and triple- and quadruple-tracking of instruments and finicky use of delays and general obsession with "fattening" and "thickening" that goes on these days is part of a complex effort to try and restore the sense of size, volume, and richness that is lost when we strip away the fully-developed sense of sound pressure moving air molecules by close-miking everything.

Something that I am certain exacerbates this process is failure to understand the effects of level-matching. During mic placement, when we pull the mic back away from the source, it gets quieter. Remember what that does to our perception of the sound?

This is very hard to compensate for in real-time. Even if you adjust the gain after re-positioning the mic, the immediate effect of the transition (before you compensate for the level change) is of a sound that gets bigger and hyper when you nudge the mic closer, and smaller and weaker when you back the mic off. That immediate impression is hard to shake off, even if you're on the lookout for it (which a lot of people are not, even professionals who should know better).

This creates a highway to hell for the well-meaning recordist who wants a "big" but "natural" sound. When they back the mic off, the snap reaction is that they lost some "big." When they push the mic in, they get big back but lose some "natural." So they try a little reverb to put back the natural. This increases the signal gain and gives even more "big," but doesn't quite sound as "natural" as it should. So they fiddle with delays and compression and try adding more doubled-up tracks and whatnot to try and "smooth" out the sound and "fatten" it up and so on. Which will, of course, add more signal strength and push the whole thing a little closer to clipping, at which point they have to back off the signal level and end up deciding that they need a 12-foot plate reverb or an Otari machine to get "natural" tape delay (both of which of course add a little more signal gain).

Repeat this process for eight months and spend an extra $83,000 of the starving band's advance money and eventually you end up with a quarter-million-dollar, radio-ready commercial recording of a clipped, phase-smeared, hundred-and-eighty-tracked, fatigue-inducing mix of a three-piece folk-rock group that is ready to be sent to mastering for further limiting.

To their credit, most home studios usually give up a lot earlier in the process, but they are still desperate to know the "secrets" of how the pros work.
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Old 12-15-2008, 06:39 AM   #88
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This thread just gets better & better!!
Keep it coming yep, & thanks so much for the time & effort your putting in.

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Old 12-15-2008, 12:50 PM   #89
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The thing I notice most about pro recordings is that instruments have their own space in the stereo spectrum. You had been talking about bass guitar. One thing I haven't seemed to get yet is how to get the bass to take up a narrower slice of the pie in that field. I hear these recordings where the bass is quite powerful and yet sits in such a small area dead center, almost coming from above.

As I lay a bass, it seems a little wider and unfocused. Guess that would be a good word. Unfocused. Kinda blurred. What is actually giving these instruments this pinpoint position in the whole stereo field?
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Old 12-15-2008, 01:16 PM   #90
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When I first started reading this thread the day it was posted, my first thought was, "Holy crap! I have a stalker! He knows exactly what I've been doing!"

This thread is win.
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Old 12-15-2008, 04:53 PM   #91
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Originally Posted by junioreq View Post
The thing I notice most about pro recordings is that instruments have their own space in the stereo spectrum. You had been talking about bass guitar. One thing I haven't seemed to get yet is how to get the bass to take up a narrower slice of the pie in that field. I hear these recordings where the bass is quite powerful and yet sits in such a small area dead center, almost coming from above.

As I lay a bass, it seems a little wider and unfocused. Guess that would be a good word. Unfocused. Kinda blurred. What is actually giving these instruments this pinpoint position in the whole stereo field?
I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but here are some things to think about for now:

- Instruments that are panned dead center are identical to instruments cloned and panned both hard right and hard left. On a good, properly-positioned speaker setup, there should be three specifically identifiable "cardinal points": hard left, hard right, and the "phantom center." Everything else tends to be a blurry and variable no-man's land, which is fine, it just is what it is. But you should be able to hear instruments or content coming from those three distinct locations if you close your eyes-- it should basically sound like there are three speakers, with stuff in-between (this is the system setup, not necessarily the pan position).

Assuming you have a good monitor setup where you can hear the three cardinal points using test tones or reference CDs or whatever, why is it that some instruments panned center seem offset, or shifty, or seem to come from that vague no man's land? One common reason is different masking effects on the left and right. E.g., if you have a guitar in the right speaker and a piano in the left and the bass dead center, the guitar is going to be masking and covering some parts of the bass sound, and the piano is going to be masking and covering some other parts. If you have something else dead-center (like a full-spectrum rock vocal or lead part), then that is going to be masking some other parts of the bass sound, maybe most of the upper-midrange articulation. So different parts of the bass sound are going to poke through wherever they can find room and the whole effect might be a somewhat de-localized sound, which is neither good nor bad, just a thing to deal with. Everything affects everything, and frequency management of different instruments and different parts of the stereo spectrum is huge.

- Playing technique. Some of the most highly-valued studio musicians in the world are bass players who can generate "hit bass," which usually has almost nothing to do with the kinds of acr****ic technical virtuosity required of guitar players or session vocalists. These hitmakers frequently play pretty simple lines, but they control the dynamics, note duration, and tonal quality to get just the right "feeling" that beds the song and complements the drums.

One of the biggest differences between a really good bassist and a guitar player playing bass is that the bass player will tend to play with a much lighter touch while still controlling the dynamics. Guitar, especially electric guitar, is an instrument that was made to played loud. Even with "clean" guitar sounds, the amplification is typically a very crude, primitive, soviet-era system that is meant to overload and saturate on the input stages, the output stages, and at the speaker itself. This is what gives that rich harmonic "fire" and expressiveness to electric guitar. It also compresses the signal and delivers articulate, emotional "oomph" that stays at a fairly consistent level but just "sounds" louder when you pick harder.

If you take the same approach to bass, and pound the hell out of the strings, playing with the kind of expressive, loosey-goosey timing that many guitar players do, the sound is apt to overload the pickups, the input stages (preamps), and everything else, producing the same kind of dull, farty, obnoxious-sounding lows that come from overloading cheap speakers.

Bass needs a lot of headroom and power. It requires high-wattage amplification (ever notice how a 50-watt guitar needs a 1,000-watt bass amp to keep up?), which translates into good, adequately-powered monitors so that you can hear what you're playing clearly and powerfully without saturating the signal, and it requires lots of clean input amplification, which means playing with a lighter touch and rolling off your preamp input levels to insure that you're not pushing them too hard. Just because your soundcard's "clip" LED doesn't come on until you pin the peak meters doesn't mean that it has adequately-sized transformers to handle massive steady-state basslines right up to 0dBFS. The AD converters might not "clip" until long after the analog preamp has become voltage-starved and starts to fart out from current overload (Notice how everything seems to come back to level-matched listening comparisons, EVERY STEP OF THE WAY, including how you set your input levels? Golden ears in one easy step). If you've been recording bass with hard-picked notes on an inexpensive starter bass plugged into an inexpensive prosumer interface, trying backing the gain down and playing the notes very lightly and see if clarity, focus, and power doesn't improve dramatically. Gain-staging is a big topic for a later post, but like everything else, all you really need is ears.

- This might sound obvious, but use fresh strings and a good instrument. Bass strings sadly wear out quickly, and unless you're James Jamerson (the greatest bass player who ever lived, but not someone most people are equipped to emulate), old strings are even worse for bass than guitar, while also being more expensive. You can boil old strings in water with a little white vinegar to restore some life if cash is tight. A decent bass doesn't have to be all that expensive, but the pickup configuration and general sound of the instrument should complement the kind of music you do. A fat, funky, burpy-sounding P-bass is not going to sound appropriate in a nu-metal band, and a deep, clackety, growly, heavy-body bass with EMGs might have a hard time fitting into mellow blues-rock ballads.

-Arrangement and performance. This is a topic for another thread, but a bass is not just a four-string guitar. Whatever instrument is playing the lowest note sets the tonal foundation for the whole song. If the bass plays a fast run up to the seventh, then the whole band sounds like it just played a fast run up to the seventh. That's not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, just something to be aware of. If the bass plays with a loose, expressive timing, the whole band can sound lurchy and out-of-step. If the bass plays tight, sensitive timing in synch with the drums, then it sets the solid foundation that frees up the lead instruments to play expressively. The bass is the most powerful instrument, literally, and with great power comes great responsibility, in the words of the famous audio engineer Uncle Ben (from Spider-man, not the rice guy). If the bass line is "off" (which is a purely subjective judgment), then the whole thing just doesn't sound or feel right. This is purely a "feel" thing, it does not necessarily mean that every note is plucked right on a drum beat. In fact, the nature of the bass is such that slightly dragging or pushing the beat often produces the best results, because bass waves are slower to develop and interact in funny ways. But it has a big effect on gluing the whole sound together.

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Old 12-15-2008, 09:16 PM   #92
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Let's talk a little more about farfield vs nearfield recording and how the concepts interact with some of the stuff from earlier.

As a quick aside, if you have followed the thread so far, one of the biggest reasons to purchase actual dedicated-purpose nearfield monitors is because they are designed for even response at close-up listening, as opposed to the Bose tagline of "room-filling sound," whatever that means (it probably doesn't mean perfectly linear mids at a distance of two feet from the speaker). I will leave the advantages of monitoring in the nearfield to the acoustics thread, but the short version is that you're generally better off listening to monitors that are too close than too far.

Do you play electric guitar? If so, do you play with the speaker a centimeter away from your ear? If you do, you should probably stop. But if you are like most players, you have probably spent significant effort on dialing in an amp sound that sounds good from, say, 1.5 meters or 6 feet away (I'm trying to incorporate metrics for readers who don't live in this alternate universe known as USA). So why do we commonly record guitar amps with the mic shoved right up in the speaker grill?

For that matter, why do we record string bass with a mic under the bridge, or piano with mics under the soundboard, or drums with mics right up against every kit piece?

The answer is complicated in theory, but the short version is because it often sounds better.

In the real world, we are making records for people to listen to on a variety of playback systems, in a variety of listening environments. And ideally, we want the records to sound good in all of them. A "purist" approach might be to simply set up the ensemble in a concert hall and record them from row 3, center with zero processing. This is all well and good for re-creating the ideal listening experience in a dedicated audiophile listening room, but an immediate problem presents itself in proletarian real-world playback.

In a loud car, or as shopping mall background music capped at 60dB SPL, or in a noisy bar's jukebox, the playback is not going to be a philosophically pure listening experience. We have no control over the playback volume or acoustics. We have no control over the background noise.

But an interesting solution presents itself if we consider the ways in which human hearing automatically adjusts for surrounding acoustics (if you haven't already read through the acoustics stick in this forum please do so). If we simply recreate the SOURCES (i.e. the individual instruments) proportionately, then we can theoretically create a virtual concert hall in whatever space the listener is in. I.e. we don't actually have to re-create the "ideal listening experience," we can just reproduce all the instrument sounds, balance them out, and let whatever environment the listener is in take care of the rest. And the obvious way to do this is with direct recording and close-miking.

BUT, that leads to some pretty significant complexities. For instance your electric guitar sound that was developed for listening six feet (or 1.5m) away is going to sound a lot different on studio monitors with the mic shoved in the grill. Especially if you are trying to make records that might be played back at a different (lower) volume than you usually play guitar.

The fact is that volume makes a big difference. For example, let's take gunshots. If you've ever shot a gun, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't shot a gun, imagine something really loud and then make it a lot louder.

Now, with that in mind, I want you to think about TV and movie gunshot effects. The fact is that an authentic recording of a gunshot, when played back at sane living-room listening levels, sounds like a wimpy little "pop" or hand clap. You have probably heard this kind of gunshot recording before in documentaries or newsreels or some such and thought "how wimpy." But that's what a gunshot sounds like, unless it is at ear-blasting, speaker-rupturing SPL levels.

So what happens in *most* TV and movie soundtracks is that they compress, saturate, stretch out, and "hype up" the sound of gunshots to create the *impression* of loudness within safe, reproducible playback levels. This is particularly pronounced if you watch a movie or TV show where there are massive-sounding handguns interspersed with smaller ratatat-sounding high-caliber machine guns. In reality, the machine guns are just as loud and powerful as the sidearms on every round, if not more so, but there is no way to fit the explosive "decay" into every machine-gun round, so the mixer is forced to compromise. In real life, machine guns are not abruptly treblier and smaller-sounding than handguns. Real-life machine guns are a great way to go deaf quick, but in the movies, the action hero's voice sounds just as loud and powerful as the high-caliber assault rifle, which is yet another illusion.

The fact is that we can, within limits, create a whole lot of sonic illusions. Where these are most useful in the studio is in creating the right sense volume, space, and size that will fool the ear on playback. In other words, we can make gunshots *sound* deafening, even at perfectly safe listening levels, within limits.

Facts about the rock band AC/DC that you might not have known:

-The singer from AC/DC usually sings whisper-quiet.
-The guitar players from AC/DC usually use quite low gain settings for heavy rock guitar, older Marshall amps with the knobs turned up about halfway (no distortion pedals).

Both of these fly in the face of impressions that most casual listeners would have about AC/DC, which is a band that has been releasing some of the loudest-sounding records in rock for decades. The reality is that the moderate amp gain settings actually sound louder and bigger than super high-gain settings, which are prone to sound nasal and shrill at low volumes.

The singer, like TV gunshots, is creating the impression of loudness without straining his voice by only pushing and exerting the upper harmonics that are strained while screaming. IOW, he's singing not from the diaphragm, as most vocal coaches teach, but from the throat and sinuses. Instead of screaming, he's skipping the vocal chord damage, and only exercising the parts of the voice that are *unique* to the scream. He's using parts of the voice that normally never get used except when we're screaming our head off, and the result is that it sounds like someone screaming his head off, even though he's barely whispering. Because nobody walks around talking like that, the effect is of a "super-scream," something that sounds louder than any mortal human could ever scream, because the normal sound of a human voice is completely overwhelmed by the effects that are usually only heard during screaming.

My point is not to endorse AC/DC, nor to say that you should try to emulate them, only to cite a commonly-heard example as a way to illustrate how perceived loudness, size, and impact can be crafted as a studio or performance illusion.

Nearfield close-miking opens up a world of opportunities in this respect. We can zero in on the sharp "thump" of a kick drum and make it feel like a punch in the chest for an uptempo club track, or we can stretch it and compress it to sound like distant thunder for a slow mournful ballad. We can take a poppy, bouncy snare and turn it into a gated, white-noisy industrial explosion or we can subtly lift up the decay to get a sharp, expressive, woody crack. We can flatten out the guitars and shove the Celestion greenbacks right into your ears. We can get the bass to pump the speakers and we can make the piano plunk and plink a whole new backbeat.

But for the reasons mentioned above, we still run into trouble with trying to get "natural" sounds from close-miking. This might be something of a lost cause, but listen to modern-day records on the radio and see how many of them actually sound anything like a band in a room. Not many. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is not for me to say, but I will go out on a limb and venture that increasingly artificial-sounding productions lend an increasingly disposable quality to popular music.

How many of today's records will people still be listening to in 30 years? Will some balding middle-aged insurance salesman be telling his kids that they don't understand rap metal and that their stuff is just "crap metal" and go home to watch Limp Bizkit's PBS special at the Pops while sipping iced Chablis?

Anyway, stuff to think about. More to come.
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Old 12-16-2008, 12:56 PM   #93
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Wow, great stuff. I've been watching this thread from the beginning and I almost started crying a few posts back when it sounded like yep might be done. So glad there's more coming, I'm not ready to be done yet! Now I have to go try to sound like AC/DC. Very intriguing stuff, I've often thought about how amazing his voice sounds and how he can sing like that without pain. Keep it coming yep, this is great!
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Old 12-18-2008, 10:27 PM   #94
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Okay, this is probably a bit premature, but I might not have much posting time before '09, and I promised this in an earlier post:

A short buying guide to recording gear...

First rule is do *not* go into debt over a hobby (even if it is a hobby that you are certain will be your lifelong ticket to fame and fortune).

Second rule is do not buy anything that is not on your afore-mentioned pad of paper. The way to avoid sucker buys is to wait until you have actually needed something in one or more actual recording projects. There will *always* be stuff that you need.

Once you have saved up a significant sum to upgrade your studio, the absolute best way to shop for recording gear is to book a few hours at a well-equipped commercial studio and try out their gear. Be up-front about what you are doing, and you will find the people there very helpful. All recording studios these days are well-accustomed to dealing with home studio operators. For a few hundred bucks you can sit down with someone who has recorded actual rock stars and see how they would record you, try out the different gear, and see how they actually use it. Bring your MXL mics or whatever along and hear for yourself the differences that preamps make on your voice and your instruments. The knowledge is worth more than you spend, and any good studio will be happy to help, knowing that the biggest thing you will take away from the experience is the understanding of how valuable their gear and expertise is.

That said, here are some tips for approaching reviews:

-Professional studio operators and engineers are very likely to be unfamiliar with the low-end of the recording market. Very few top-flight engineers and producers have much exposure to a wide cross-section of $100 Chinese condenser mics or freeware plugins. They spend their days recording with established name gear, not scouring the web for freebie synth patches. So when a pro says that a certain plugin has finally broken the barrier to compete with hardware compressors or whatever, it might be only one of a half-dozen plugins he's ever seriously tried. Same with cheapo mics, preamps, and the rest of it. They may have no idea how much the bottom of the market has improved in the last 5-10 or even 20 years. And this is especially true of the big-name super-legendary types. HOWEVER, if they say that something sounds good, chances are very high that it does sound good.

- On the other hand, many amateur forum-goers have never had much exposure to top-flight gear. When someone on a forum says that X is the best mic they've ever tried, it is quite possible that they have never tried any other serious studio mics. And consensus opinions can emerge on individual forums and message boards with little connection to reality. Somebody asks about the best headphones, and one or two posters who have only otherwise used ipod earbuds rave about one particular model, and before you know it, some totally mediocre headphone pick gets a dozen rave reviews anytime anyone asks about headphones on that forum. HOWEVER, what these kinds of forum reviews are collectively *awesome* at is sussing out technical, durability, and compatibility problems. Professional reviewers often get better support and/or optimized test samples (especially with computer-based stuff), but a real-world survey of amateur forums can give a very good sense of the kinds of problems people are having with a particular model on big-box laptops and wal-mart computers not optimized for audio work.

- Professional reviewers are another conundrum altogether. The resume criteria for this position is often almost nil, and the accountability is even lower. Everything is "a useful addition" to an otherwise well-equipped studio. Which is useless info if you're trying to build a well-equipped studio in the first place. On a scale of 1-10, they rate everything a seven. Look for multiple 10s.

Down to the meat-and-potatoes:

Avoid intermediate upgrades. What the audio industry wants you to do is to upgrade a $100 soundcard to a $300 soundcard to a $700 soundcard to a $1,500 soundcard and so on. By this point you will have spent $2,600 to end up with a $1,500 soundcard, and the old ones will be close to worthless. And the next step is to upgrade to dedicated converters and a selection of preamps which will render the previous generation worthless.

Once you have functionally adequate gear, save up, and make your upgrades count. Buy the expensive, primo gear, not the incrementally "better" prosumer upgrade. Bona-fide professional gear holds its value and can be easily re-sold. A used $1500 Neumann mic can be sold tomorrow for the same $1500, and may even go up in value. But put $1500 worth of used prosumer mics on eBay and you're lucky to get $500 for them, and it will take a lot more work, hassle, and postage.

The price-performance knee has been pushed a lot lower in recent years, and there is a ton of cheap gear that compares sonically with stuff costing several times the purchase price. This means that the best deals are on the very low-end and the very high-end of the price spectrum. There are very cheap alternatives to mid-range gear on the one hand, and the heirloom-timeless stuff on the high end will hold its value on the other hand.

The next couple years will be a very good time to buy. The cost of old gear has been driven up exponentially in the past 15 years, even as the quality of low-end gear has shot up. A lot of pro studios have been closing their doors, but an ever-increasing number of hobbyist studios were driving up prices for heirloom gear in the days of easy credit and exploding home equity in the western world. You may have heard that those sources of personal wealth are collapsing. High-end studio gear has become a sort of "luxury good," and is very likely to start to lose value as buyers dry up and as lavish hobbyist studios get sold off in a tough economy.

There was a time maybe 15 or 20 years ago when you could just keep a sharp lookout for college radio stations and such that abruptly decided to "upgrade" to digital and you could get vintage tube preamps and such for practically or literally nothing. As stuff like ADAT and later ProTools allowed people to set up a "professional" home studio for sums of $20,000 or so, people began to look for ways to re-analogize their sound. And as the explosion of extremely cheap DAW studios came into being, prices for the old junk exploded, even as a newfound reverence for all things analog and "vintage" usurped the previous love of digital. This going to start to sound like a rant, but I promise it's going somewhere.

The explosion in prices for "vintage" and "boutique" gear was not driven by professional studios. Even before the home-studio boom, the arrival of cheap, high-quality digital and better broadcast technologies made a whole lot of local recording and broadcast studios redundant. There was a small increase in inexpensive project studios, fueled by the rise of punk, hip-hop, and "indie" music, but for the most part, the emergence of the ADAT and Mackie mixers spelled the beginning of the end for mid-market commercial recording studios, and began to turn broadcast studios into cheap, commodity workplaces devoid of the old-school audio "engineers" (who actually wore lab coats in the old days of calibrating cutting lathes and using occilloscopes to measure DC offset and so on).

The irony is that the explosion of cheap, high-quality digital fostered a massive cottage industry of extremely small home and project studios, that rapidly began to develop a keen interest in high-end studio gear. Even as broadcast and small commercial jingle studios and local TV stations (of which there were a LOT, back then) were dumping their clunky mixing consoles and old-fashioned ribbon mics and so on, there was a massive rise in layperson interest in high-end studio gear.

As the price of entry has gotten lower and lower, interest in and demand for truly "pro quality" sound has increased exponentially, and superstition and reverential awe has grown up around anything that pre-exists the digital age.

Some of this reverence is unwarranted. But there is no doubt that things were made to a higher standard in the old days, when studio equipment was bought on industrial and not personal budgets, and when consoles were hand-built to contract by genuine engineers who built only a handful of them per year, to order. Things were over-built, with heavier-gauge wires and components that were tested by sonic trial-and-error, and had oversized power supplies and artist-perfect solder joints and military-grade, noise-free precision knobs and so on.

There are still manufacturers working to this level of quality today. Whether and to what degree this stuff actually produces better sound quality is a bit like asking whether heirloom antique furniture is more comfortable than Bob's discount sofas. The answer is usually yes, and even when it's unclear, the difference in build quality and longevity itself usually has value.

The long and short is that genuine super-primo gear has intrinsic value that is likely to hold steady or increase as more and more of the world becomes interested in small-scale recording, even while cheaper, more disposable gear based on stamped PC boards and chips and flimsy knobs and so on continues to improve in quality, while simultaneously losing resale value.

The next year or two are likely to see a significant selloff by lavish home studios that were financed by home equity and easy credit in the western world. This is likely to lead to some very good deals for buyers. But in the long run, developing countries and increased interest in home recording is likely to sustain or increase the value of top-flight gear, even as the cost of low-end consumer stuff continues to decrease.
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Old 12-18-2008, 10:28 PM   #95
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PS questions and criticism are good!
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Old 12-18-2008, 11:12 PM   #96
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I'm broke, no questions on gear. But as far as effects, reverb is killing me. If you listen to this Dokken song http://search.playlist.com/tracks/don%20dokken you hear so many reverbs, I believe. At this point its hard to tell what is delay, what is verb on individual instruments or what is reverb on the whole mix. Seems like I'm having a hell of a time getting all the instruments to sound like they are in the same "space".

~Rob.

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Old 12-20-2008, 09:28 PM   #97
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I was in the middle of copying all of your golden text to horde till the end of time when i came across your request of someone to post up a document and i figured it was the least I could do. Thanks for all the amazing info.

http://stash.reaper.fm/manage_file/2...like%20ASS.doc
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Old 12-20-2008, 10:46 PM   #98
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FarBeyondMetal,

Good job, man! I converted your file to a PDF for those that don't have Word.
Enjoy!

http://stash.reaper.fm/oldsb/333146/...like%20ASS.pdf
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Old 12-21-2008, 01:20 AM   #99
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Originally Posted by junioreq View Post
I'm broke, no questions on gear. But as far as effects, reverb is killing me. If you listen to this Dokken song http://search.playlist.com/tracks/don%20dokken you hear so many reverbs, I believe. At this point its hard to tell what is delay, what is verb on individual instruments or what is reverb on the whole mix. Seems like I'm having a hell of a time getting all the instruments to sound like they are in the same "space".

~Rob.
Ah, reverb is a big topic. (isn't everything?)

In normal, everyday life, you almost never "hear" reverb, unless you're in a parking garage or a stairwell. But it's everywhere, and it affects everything you hear on a subconscious level. Even outdoors, the sound is not the same as a close-miked instrument.

Here is an experiment to try. Put on a pair of headphones and listen to the radio. Now, keeping the headphones on and playing, tune a another radio with actual speakers to the same station and turn it on. Turn it off, and then on again. Listen to the difference in sound quality when the speakers are on vs. when it's just headphones. If you're paying attention to it, it's obvious, but it is extremely hard to describe or to put your finger on. I could say it sounds bigger or richer or more natural, but these are clumsy descriptions.

Reverb should not jump out of the speakers as sounding "reverberated." Even massive, lush, 80's reverb doesn't have the splashy, murky, tinny "effect" sound, most of the time. Reverb should be subliminal. Sometimes this is simply matter of turning the reverb down just below the level where you can actually "hear" it (but if you mute it, it still makes a huge difference). But just as often, it is a matter of "tuning" the settings to get a sound that blends in and complements with the dry sound, rather than overwhelming it.

I would encourage anyone interested in audio to listen closely to the Dusty Springfield song "Son of a Preacher Man." You've probably heard this track a million times, but might never have noticed that the only instrument panned center is the vocal (maybe the horns, too, I haven't listened to it in a while). All the drums are hard right, all the backing vocals are hard-panned, and so on. Everything is either hard left, hard right, or center, like a lot of early stereo recordings (believe it or not, the original stereo consoles did not have pan knobs, only switches that went L-C-R).

It's a great mix, featuring a fantastic performance and really good instrumentation and engineering. One really interesting effect that they achieved is that the guitar is panned to one side, but it's reverb is panned to the other. And the reverb is gorgeous, and perfectly-sculpted.

If you listen to the recording closely, The guitar's reverb is nearly as loud as the guitar, but has an extremely muted, "soft" quality that doesn't smear or dilute the guitar at all, it just reinforces it and makes it bigger and richer. In fact the guitar still sounds quite punchy and articulate and "dry." The highs and lows to the reverb are rolled off, so that just the "note" portion of the sound resonates. The decay is "timed" to the tempo of the song, and to the feel of the guitar. This was not achieved with presets.

You really need to dig into the settings of reverb to understand it. A bigger predelay makes a bigger-sounding reverb without smearing the effect. Low- and High-frequency damping make the reverb less conspicuous. Decay times that are "tuned" to the tempo of the song (by ear, not by calculator) fill out the sound without sounding like an "effect." In fact, real musicians in real acoustical space do this instinctively, and adjust what they play and the tempo to suit the real resonance of the space that they are in. People play differently in a bathroom than they do in a cathedral, and they "compensate" for the sound of the space they're in by playing "harder" or "softer."

Reverb effects in the real world are subliminal.

Predelay conveys a sense of how close to the instrument we are. If we're sitting right next to the instrument in a big venue, we will hear the direct sound immediately, and the reveberated sound a little later (long predelay). This gives us a lot of instrument articulation and sense of immediacy. If we're sitting in the back of a long, narrow cathedral, we might be hearing the early reverb from up front right along with the direct sound (short predelay). This might give a bigger, more "washed-out" or faraway sound.

Decay time tells us something about the size and nature of the space we are in, and also gives information about the volume of the instrument. Very soft sounds decay quickly, but very loud, dynamic sounds can also appear to decay quickly, because the direct sound tapers off quicker.

High- and Low-frequency damping tell us something about the kind of room we're in. An empty cathedral will sound very "splashy" and also muddy with low-frequency resonance. But a cathedral full of people will have a lot more highs and extreme lows absorbed. A living room or soft-furnished nightclub will sound even more muted, regardless of the actual decay time.

"Size" and "Density" controls give us some degree of control over the ratio of "early reflections" or distinct echoes, compared with more "washed out" reverberant sound. In an empty cathedral with lots of stone pillars and hard wooden pews, we are likely to hear a lot of broadly mixed-up, diffuse reverberation (higher density). On the flipside, in a small cinderblock room full of people, a lot of the reverb we hear is likely to be from direct refections off the nearby walls and ceiling (lower density). Again, this exists independent of the decay time or predelay.

For instance, somebody sitting onstage in a basement party with a lot of people might hear a long predelay, very little density, lots of high damping and medium low damping, and a long decay. Someone sitting in the back of a plush nightclub might hear almost zero predelay, lots of low- and high-damping, short decays, and medium density. Somebody sitting in the middle of a massive arena concert might hear medium-long predelay, very low density, and very short decays (because of the surrounding crowd absorbing all the weaker sounds).

This last example leads to possibility of using distinct delays (or echoes) in place of or in addition to more diffuse reverberation. It's harder to find a better example than the stadium rock staple of Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2" (which is a bizzare phenomenon unto itself in a whole lot of ways).

In all cases, the above illustrations are not "rules" or "recipes," they're things that have to be tuned by ear. The biggest mistake that beginners make is to flip through presets and stick with whatever one sounds least offensive, or most masking of a mediocre sound or performance.
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Old 12-23-2008, 12:34 PM   #100
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...

If you take the same approach to bass, and pound the hell out of the strings, playing with the kind of expressive, loosey-goosey timing that many guitar players do, the sound is apt to overload the pickups, the input stages (preamps), and everything else, producing the same kind of dull, farty, obnoxious-sounding lows that come from overloading cheap speakers.

...
I wish I could tie our bass player to a chair and beat him senseless while I recite every word of that post. "If..! (punch) You..! (smack) Take..! (oof) The..! (sok) Same..! (smash) Approach..! (blam)...."
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Old 12-25-2008, 01:26 PM   #101
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PS questions and criticism are good!
Great stuff. My own recordings can be described as boomy colored mud embedded in hiss, with ocasional hard-limiting noise. A few items.

"The two most common speakers used in the history of studio recording are certainly Yamaha NS10s and little single-driver Auratones."

Aren't reference monitors, and all little boxes, seriously unfaithful (you're playing bass through something that no bassist would ever play through)? Aren't they just overpriced imitations of bad speakers that the audience uses? And I'm paying for what, the manufacturer's R&D-ing just how /uniform/ they can deliver the mediocrity? Any problem substituting mediocre old KEF or newer Sony bookshelves? Just like an OK soundcard, they too can convey some of the innovative brilliance of a good recording.

"Level-matching" does NOT mean making it so that everything hits the peak meters at the same level."

That's what the red lights on analog meters are for. I get the advice of, don't overdrive an input, and analog was more forgiving, within limits. But what are you really saying to do with this information? How and when do we do the balancing act? Some combination of gaining up the dry-ish strat and/or dialing down the overdriven Les Paul, yes? Limit and compress the high peak-to-average channels, like the dry strat? If so, when? When capturing the performance? At mixdown? Somewhere in between? Dial down the low peak-to-average channels, such as the overdriven Les Paul? Again, at what stage? Which brings us to...

"You have whispered vocals over a full metal band backed a symphony orchestra, with a delicate finger-picked acoustic guitar on stage right. And it's all supposed to sound real, and big, and natural...And the answer is yes, we can do all this...These are manufactured illusions...Reaper and programs like it have practically everything you need..."

We really need to talk about how, including a good number of other things you mentioned in those particular paragraphs. Close mic, eq for problems, compress the heck out of everything? At what stage of the project do we turn raw performances into sausage ingredients? How to reconcile the difference between instrumental talent and talent for making mixable channels?

Thanks for listening.

(first time posting on this forum)
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Old 12-27-2008, 02:34 PM   #102
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I wish I could tie our bass player to a chair and beat him senseless while I recite every word of that post. "If..! (punch) You..! (smack) Take..! (oof) The..! (sok) Same..! (smash) Approach..! (blam)...."
+1 ... even though I must say thanks to my old band poor bass player because I' had to learn bass myself and I'd never ask him to play bass on my tunes anymore...with far better results, btw...
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Old 12-27-2008, 08:13 PM   #103
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This is a great thread, and I was already archiving it for myself. I downloaded the PDF listed above but got errors trying to open it (I use Foxit PDF Suite), so I went ahead and created my own, in case anyone else has any problems. You can grab it at the link below...I hope this is cool to do....

http://www.filesavr.com/whydoyourrec...2-27-08post102

How I did it was I included all of yep's post's, in order, keeping any questions he answered within the post he responded with. I also included Larry Gates full post, since yep mentioned it pretty strongly, and also the inserted the pic that was posted.

I will update this once a week if there are more post's. I would like to Thank EVERYONE who has participated in the thread so far, this is great information!
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Old 12-29-2008, 07:34 PM   #104
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Great stuff. My own recordings can be described as boomy colored mud embedded in hiss, with ocasional hard-limiting noise. A few items.

"The two most common speakers used in the history of studio recording are certainly Yamaha NS10s and little single-driver Auratones."

Aren't reference monitors, and all little boxes, seriously unfaithful (you're playing bass through something that no bassist would ever play through)? Aren't they just overpriced imitations of bad speakers that the audience uses? And I'm paying for what, the manufacturer's R&D-ing just how /uniform/ they can deliver the mediocrity? Any problem substituting mediocre old KEF or newer Sony bookshelves? Just like an OK soundcard, they too can convey some of the innovative brilliance of a good recording.
First off, great questions from a first-time poster. And my guess is that for everyone who actually posts a question, there are probably a hundred others wondering. And it's hard for me to tell whether I'm moving too fast or too slow without feedback, so kudos.

If you find a set of bookshelf speakers that work well as monitors, go for it. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, not in the price tag nor in the label or brand designation. The pudding, in this case, is NOT your ability to make good-sounding records on that set of speakers, nor in the speaker's ability to convey the innovative brilliance of the recorded music (the brilliance or lack thereof is in the performance, not the speaker). The pudding is when you are making records that sound consistent, balanced, and essentially the same on every other speaker system.

When you listen to a commercial recording, it pretty much sounds the same whatever speaker system you play it back on-- in the car, in a bar, on headphones or at Redbone's. That does not mean that the sound quality is not affected by the speakers, just that the mix and the underlying recorded material itself sounds like the same material, just played through different speakers, and ideally it sounds pretty good on everything. But if you have ever mixed a record on headphones or on a home hifi system, I bet you have experienced the effect of popping the test CD into a friend's car or your girlfriend's home stereo and hearing something that sounds totally different from what you mixed at home. The bass is way off, the balance of instruments is all screwed up, you can't hear the vocal (or it's way too loud), the cymbals either sound pingy or like white-noisy trash-- in short, nothing sounds right. It sounds like a totally different mix from what you had at home.

The reason for this is that most home systems these days are designed to alter and flatter the sound in frequency-, dynamics-, and phase-dependent ways. An obvious analogy is the kinds of "SRS WOW" effects and sonic maximizers/aural enhancers that are built into a lot of mp3 players and consumer electronics to hype the sound in various ways. Speakers are very often built the same way, and frankly this is actually worse for reference monitoring than simple "bad speakers." If you luck out on a set of inexpensive consumer bookshelf speakers, it will very likely be something pre-1990, from before CDs ushered in the new wave of inexpensive hi-fi, or else something specialized at the low-end of the dedicated "audiophile" market.

My experience is that Sonys and the like (even in the $300+ range) are going to be chock full of one-note-bass, big directional distortions that interfere with nearfield listening, crossover-frequency-related distortions, inconsistent frequency response at low volume, and smiley-curve "hype."

It wouldn't be my first choice, but I'd be okay with doing a record on Tivoli audio speakers if I had to. And Wharfedale Diamonds are supposed to work well. But those are already in the price range where you could just buy a set of Behringer Truths or something. I don't have a lot of exposure to low-end monitors, but they are probably made with at least a minimum level of faithful reproduction as a design goal, and for most people, buying an inexpensive set of dedicated-purpose reference monitors is probably cheaper and a lot faster than buying a dozen different sets of cheap bookshelf speakers and doing test mixes to see which if any work well as monitors.

You can of course try anything, and it's always better to get busy with whatever you have available than to stress and second-guess your gear, but If you find that your recordings are not sounding as good on other speakers as they sounded at home, or that you are having a hard time hearing the effects of subtle eq or compression, then monitors are the first thing to put on your shopping list.

With specific respect to NS10s and auratones, obviously the ideal monitors are probably better speakers than these, and if you can afford ADAMs or custom soffit-mounted $30,000 monsters, then go for it. But my guess is that most of those reading this thread are probably on a tighter budget. My point with the NS10s and auratones is that "great-sounding" speakers are not necessarily even desirable for reference monitoring. NS10s sound like "perfect" cheap speakers. And that means that they sound the same at low volume or high, they deliver consistent nearfield frequency dispersion, they do not compress or "hype" the sound, they deliver bass response that is focused and tonal down to the cutoff frequency, and they have a clear, even midrange.

None of the above applies to most consumer bookshelf speakers, even "good" ones, which are apt to have sloppy dispersion, "loose" bass response, very different frequency and dynamics response at different volume levels, and a midrange that is designed not for accuracy but to compensate for crossover distortion. It is really important to understand that none of this necessarily translates into "bad sound." In fact, for home listening, any of these might actually be desirable "features." But they're not good for reference monitoring.

As an aside, I'm going to touch on your example of "something that no bassist would ever play through," since it raises a great point. The surprising reality is that a majority, or at least a significant plurality of bass players play through exactly these speakers when it comes to modern studio recordings. The whole idea is that we are making records suitable for living-room listening or something similar, and standard practice is for the bass player to sit in the control room and either plug straight into the board or to hear the miked bass cab through the control room monitors. For purposes of the recording, this is exactly the sound that we care about. But even if the bass player is out in the live room playing with the band and hearing her amp sound, what you care about as the recordist is the sound as it's being captured, and how it translates in real-world playback.
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Old 12-29-2008, 08:09 PM   #105
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"Level-matching" does NOT mean making it so that everything hits the peak meters at the same level."

That's what the red lights on analog meters are for. I get the advice of, don't overdrive an input, and analog was more forgiving, within limits. But what are you really saying to do with this information? How and when do we do the balancing act? Some combination of gaining up the dry-ish strat and/or dialing down the overdriven Les Paul, yes? Limit and compress the high peak-to-average channels, like the dry strat? If so, when? When capturing the performance? At mixdown? Somewhere in between? Dial down the low peak-to-average channels, such as the overdriven Les Paul? Again, at what stage? Which brings us to...
NononononoNO.

This "level-matching" that I'm talking about has nothing to do with any console or DAW meters, analog or digital, clip, peak or RMS. It is totally about the volume of sound in open air at the listening position. Neither REAPER nor any other DAW or mixing console has any meter for this, and they could not. I am talking about the actual perceived volume level after the sound has left the speakers. I'm talking about the sound pressure changes in your ear canal, not in the recording system.

When you have that band in a room with the clean Strat and the dirt Les Paul that I described above, the Strat player is turning up his amp and the Les Paul is turning up his amp until they both sound about right compared to he drum kit and everything else. Nobody is looking at meters or thinking about peak level or clip lights or any of it. And NOBODY is compressing or limiting the sound to make it fit with preconceived notions of what the recording meters are supposed to look like. That is the OPPOSITE of where good sound comes from. Real musicians play at varying volume levels and have sounds and instruments that are dynamic and exciting and that do not fit into a preconceived 12dB window, and nor should they.

So how do you mix this record? Easy. TURN THE LES PAUL DOWN. There is NOTHING wrong with starting out with the Les Paul peaking at -15dB. FORGET THE METERS. If it sounds too quiet, turn up the volume on your SPEAKERS. HEADROOM IS YOUR FRIEND. It is what makes the Strat sound punchy and dynamic.

I haven't even begun to talk about compression, and nobody who is unclear on any of this should be TOUCHING a compressor yet. Start your mix like a band in a room. If it's a rock combo, the loudest fixed-volume instrument is drums. So pull up those faders first, and set the drums so they they are peaking at say -6. Now turn up the guitars NOT according to the meters, but according to the SOUND relative to the drums and to each other. TURN UP YOUR MONITORS if you need more volume. Really. It's EASY. DO NOT OVER-THINK THIS. Just do it.

Compression comes AFTER. And it is a huge topic. But for now, just record good signal, and then mix it to taste. Just mix it. They are sounds. Mix them together. If one instrument is too loud, turn it down. If another is too quiet, turn it up. If the signal is clipping, pull back your faders, and start over WITH YOUR SPEAKERS TURNED UP LOUDER.

Erase the parts of your brain that think of compression and limiting as a way of making things louder. Now re-write those parts of your brain to think of compression as a way of making things QUIETER, because that's what it does. When it comes to compression, start loud, and then see how much quieter you can make it before it sounds bad. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Compression does not make anything louder, it makes things quieter.

If the above does not make perfect sense, then just leave compression alone for now. If your records sound quiet, turn up your volume knob.

This thread could go for 100 pages and years, and there is a lot more to come. As I said earlier, there is a lot of back-and-forth to this stuff. Gain-staging is a big topic that we've barely touched on. Compression is a HUGE topic that affects everything, but all in good time.
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Old 12-29-2008, 09:48 PM   #106
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What a great thread, please continue.
Your pace is perfect, I think you aren't getting too many replies or questions because we want to read more and not interrupt too much.

Great read , cant wait for more.
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Old 12-29-2008, 11:28 PM   #107
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Before we get into compression and gain-staging (both closely inter-related topics), it is important to understand some basic concepts of audio and acoustical wave forms.

Sound waves are "AC" or "alternating current." In electrical terms, this is similar to a battery with a switch that rapidly changes the polarity from positive to negative. In an ocean, it is like waves coming in and out, pushing and pulling. "DC" or "direct current" has no sound. Acoustically, it's just static air pressure. Unless the pressure is disrupted, we don't hear anything. A very sharp "DC" displacement of air pressure such as a hand clap creates ripples similar to throwing a pebble in a pond. Those AC "ripples" are what we hear. Like ripples passing a fixed spot on the surface of a pond, they pass right by us and dissipate into the ether, and we only hear the quick passing as a sharp pop. But most of the musical sounds we are interested in are more steady, fluctuating changes in air pressure.

You can perform a simple experiment to generate low-frequency changes in air pressure by simply waving your hand up and down very close to your ear. If you wave your hand very quickly (say 20 times per second or more), you'll hear a very low-frequency tone or rumble. You have to keep the amplitude (up and down distance) fairly small, or you will start to generate actual wind or puffs of air which will mask the tone, but if you just wiggle your hand over a very short distance close to your ear, you'll generate something like a 20Hz tone without creating actual wind or moving air currents, just changes in air pressure.

This is essentially how the human voice and all other instruments work. When we sing, we are passing some air out of our lungs, but that's not what is actual generating the "sound," it's just carrying it out into the world. The actual changes in sound pressure that create tonality are from vibrations in our vocal chords, which fluctuate very rapidly. This modulates the "wind" as we exhale, and the current of air carries a steady-state alternating pressure that those around us hear as mellifluous song (or as wretched screeching, depending on our skill and their tastes).

Electrical audio works the same way, except the current carried is positive and negative electrical current instead of air pressure. If you could connect a wire to ground and somehow switch a battery's terminals from positive to negative 20 times a second you could generate a 20Hz audio signal the same way you created a 20Hz acoustical signal above. (the distiction between "audio" and "acoustical" is that "acoustical" is what happens in open air, while "audio" refers to captured or processed sound signals in electrical or digital systems. Make sense?)

In a very simple transducer system such as a guitar pickup, you have a coiled, magnetized wire (inside the pickup) next to a vibrating metal string. The vibrating string pulls the magnetic field, which causes electrons to move back-and-forth across the coiled wire. The coiled wire is connected by leads in the guitar cable to the preamp, and the faint electrical current caused by the disruptions in the magnetic field is sent down the lead wires to the preamp where a transformer increases the signal voltage to something usable called "line level."

This amplification process is like a second pickup. An oversimplification would be to imagine a strong DC current (like the air from a singer's lungs) being modulated by a weaker AC current that modulates the stronger current, amplifying it. If we imagine weak ripples in a pond being used to wiggle a floating paddle, and that paddle connected to a lever that makes bigger waves in a nearby river, you can start to get the idea.

A dynamic microphone capsule works the same way. Instead of a pick vibrating a string, acoustical sound pressure changes are caught by a disc-shaped "diaphragm" that moves in and out. The diaphragm is connected to a magnet that is suspended inside a coiled-up wire. As the magnet is pushed in and out by alternating pressure on the diaphragm, a small current is generated, just like a tiny electrical generator, powered by air pressure. This is fed to an amplifier, and if we pretend that there is only a single amplification stage, the tiny current from the mic cable creates the same kind of electro-magnetic disruption in a much bigger coil of wire powered by bigger current, which drives speakers, which are much bigger transducers that have the exact same design as the microphone. Only in this case, instead of being moved by air pressure, the magnet in the coil is moved by the powerful current in the coils, and speaker cone is pushed in and out, creating alternating sound pressure waves.

Having a rudimentary understanding of the basic mechanics of sound will become valuable as we start to talk about some of the technical details of modern studio recording.
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Old 12-30-2008, 12:36 AM   #108
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Q: "How can I get my recordings to stop sounding like ass?"
A: "Pull the condenser out of your rectum (at least while you're recording)."

Sorry for the derail.
Couldn't help it.
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Old 12-30-2008, 07:20 AM   #109
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Originally Posted by Arnar View Post
What a great thread, please continue.
Your pace is perfect, I think you aren't getting too many replies or questions because we want to read more and not interrupt too much.

Great read , cant wait for more.
Agreed! With bated breath, waiting I am.
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Old 12-30-2008, 07:28 AM   #110
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yep - since the job of a recording engineer is to make a recording sound good on a wide range of speakers, and my impression is that the main difference between speaker enclosures is the frequency curve, I've pictured the mastering process as a a sort of "averaging" or "balancing" of the recording so that it's in the "sweet spot" of all these different frequency curves. Is that a somewhat accurate statement?

If so, then by disregarding commercial appeal is it possible to get a pristine, killer reproduction of a recording if we custom-master the recording for a specific set of speakers?

Not meaning to derail the thread, just curious.
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Old 12-30-2008, 09:40 AM   #111
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Originally Posted by yep View Post
....
But if you have ever mixed a record on headphones or on a home hifi system, I bet you have experienced the effect of popping the test CD into a friend's car or your girlfriend's home stereo and hearing something that sounds totally different from what you mixed at home. The bass is way off, the balance of instruments is all screwed up, you can't hear the vocal (or it's way too loud), the cymbals either sound pingy or like white-noisy trash-- in short, nothing sounds right. It sounds like a totally different mix from what you had at home.

The reason for this is that most home systems these days are designed to alter and flatter the sound in frequency-, dynamics-, and phase-dependent ways. An obvious analogy is the kinds of "SRS WOW" effects and sonic maximizers/aural enhancers that are built into a lot of mp3 players and consumer electronics to hype the sound in various ways. Speakers are very often built the same way, and frankly this is actually worse for reference monitoring than simple "bad speakers." If you luck out on a set of inexpensive consumer bookshelf speakers, it will very likely be something pre-1990, from before CDs ushered in the new wave of inexpensive hi-fi, or else something specialized at the low-end of the dedicated "audiophile" market.
Wow, Great explanation of something I struggle with, because yes, I mix in headphones and a hifi system (It's all I got.)

Quote:
My experience is that Sonys and the like (even in the $300+ range) are going to be chock full of one-note-bass, big directional distortions that interfere with nearfield listening, crossover-frequency-related distortions, inconsistent frequency response at low volume, and smiley-curve "hype."
And yes, I have Sony's :|

Keep it coming yep. This is great stuff. thanks again.
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Old 12-30-2008, 01:54 PM   #112
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Originally Posted by drybij View Post
yep - since the job of a recording engineer is to make a recording sound good on a wide range of speakers, and my impression is that the main difference between speaker enclosures is the frequency curve, I've pictured the mastering process as a a sort of "averaging" or "balancing" of the recording so that it's in the "sweet spot" of all these different frequency curves. Is that a somewhat accurate statement?

If so, then by disregarding commercial appeal is it possible to get a pristine, killer reproduction of a recording if we custom-master the recording for a specific set of speakers?

Not meaning to derail the thread, just curious.
Uh, sort of. "Custom-mastering for the speakers" is, in a sense, what happens when you mix on inaccurate speakers. But it's not just a question of frequency, it's also got a lot to do with things like the speaker gating or compressing certain frequencies.

Example 1: If the speaker is built with a tight woofer suspension, this can give a much thumpier, tighter low end, which sounds good for listening. But it also disguises any sloppyness or mud in the underlying mix, and it may lead you to crank up the low end just to excite that cool "thump" from the speakers.

Example 2: If the speakers are built with tweeters that are very sensitive but that limit excursion (volume) to avoid damage, then any highs might be "sexed up" and compressed on playback. So a pingy, clangy, uneven ride cymbal comes out of the speaker sounding like splashy sizzle and you don't know what's really going on behind there until you take the mix to a different set of speakers.

Example 3: Let's say your Sony system has a crossover at 1.5kHz (a very common place for it). This is an extremely sensitive range of human hearing, and any ugliness around it is going to sound bad. So the speaker designer bypasses the problem of crossover distortion by simply designing a crossover that depresses all frequencies around 1.5k, like an eq cut. The neat thing about this approach is that cutting the mids like that is like a "loudness" circuit, and not many customers are going to complain about too much highs and lows. Let's further imagine that Sony thoughtfully included a free stereo widener circuit to make this little bookshelf system sound bigger and more dramatic, so not only are frequencies around 1.5k depressed, but so is anything in the center of the stereo spread. Now, what might be panned center with important content at around 1.5k, hmm? Maybe vocals? Snare? Kick? Bass? Only the most important instruments in the whole mix. So you end up "mastering" the hell out of these critical instruments at critical frequencies, and then play it back on another system and the whole mix is totally out of whack.

The important thing to understand is that NONE of those effects are necessarily going to interfere with anyone's enjoyment of material that was well-mixed to begin with. Take any commercial record and play it back through a system that delivers thumpy lows and sizzly highs and a wide stereo spread with scooped mids, and almost nobody's going to complain. But it's like one-way glass-- good sound can still get OUT of the speakers, but you can't see IN to tell what's going on with the underlying audio.

It's perfectly okay to listen to music on a system that adds thump and sizzle and size, and the music you listen to does not have to be mastered specifically for that speaker-- the speaker is basically "re-mastering" everything that goes through it: gating the lows, compressing the highs, depressing the mids and center. Decision-making becomes a crapshoot on a system like this. You just can't tell what's going on.
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Old 12-30-2008, 02:07 PM   #113
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Why the hell do these speakers cost so much? It's redonkulous. I just cant see how a SPEAKER can eat up soo much money.
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Old 12-30-2008, 02:51 PM   #114
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Someone realized that, when speakers are expected to sound as awesome as possible, you can get away with charging an arm and a leg for speakers that just sound like speakers.
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Old 12-30-2008, 04:07 PM   #115
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There is no such thing as perfect speakers. You might get 90% of the way there for $200 or whatever, but getting closer and closer to perfection drives up the costs exponentially.

There is a small market for speakers and other kinds of audio gear that are overbuilt and over-designed in every way, and there are people and businesses who will pay whatever it costs to get as close to perfection as possible, even if that extra 1/10th of 1% means a hundredfold increase in cost. The fact that this market is small and that the producers of ultra high-end equipment are small boutique manufacturers means that the market and the production does not benefit from the economies of scale that drive down the cost of humdrum consumer goods.

Plus there is a fair amount of fluff, superstition, and nerd cachet at work.

I don't want to get too far off-track, but the very best speakers *are* more expensive to design and produce in a whole lot of ways. Whether the difference is "worth it" sonically or otherwise is a separate question.
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Old 12-30-2008, 04:57 PM   #116
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Great thread Yep, MultiThanks: I can feel my pockets feeling even more empty than they already were......err, are !

Surely there has to be some worth in having a set of speakers and headphones that sound totally different to each other? Even if it is only to reinforce the reality that mixing is a very touchy subject that takes time and experince? :-/

Sorry if that's not quite on thread??
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Old 12-30-2008, 06:18 PM   #117
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cheap monitors are ok as long you use real expensive Monster cables.





Sorry, I realize I just ruined this thread... lol
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Old 12-30-2008, 08:30 PM   #118
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lmfao shemp. I use monster cables and couldn't be more pleased with them.
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Old 01-03-2009, 04:08 PM   #119
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Hello Folks,
The PDF file is updated, you can grab it HERE.

Updated to 1-3-09, Post 115.

Also removed a post that got included in my last one by mistake, so this one is all yep, any quotes that he commented on, and any graphics that were posted.

Will update again next Saturday if there are new posts.

Enjoy!
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Old 01-03-2009, 07:40 PM   #120
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lmfao shemp. I use monster cables and couldn't be more pleased with them.
as long as you feel happy contributing to a company that bullies smaller companies, sometimes out of existence, all in the name of "business", then good for you. i won't allow them in my studio or connected to my live rigs. this is how i use my freedom of expression.

back on topic now please...

>
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