Joe Caithness Mastering : Affordable and effective vinyl/turntable care (with links)

Hello there, over the last few years I have been trying all kinds of vinyl care / turntable maintenance products well within the affordability of anyone who, well, you know buys vinyl!

None of these links are affiliated with Joe Caithness Mastering in any way, these are just things I have personally had good results with.

Joe Caithness Mastering’s “Guide to Digital Audio for Musicians” Part 1.5 : The Two Types of CD production

“What the hell is the difference between CD replication and CD duplication?”

This is a question asked by almost every client who comes to me to master for a short run of CDs.

The rule of thumb is that if you’re making small amounts (usually up to 100 or 200) of CDs on a “make your own CD” type website it will be duplication.

Duplication involves copying 1 to 1 a CDr master of your album. This is basically the same as burning a CD in your computer CD/DVD drive over and over on a large scale.

This is a lower quality product for three main reasons.

  1. The CD you are producing is a copy of a CDr. As most people will know CDrs aren’t the most durable format ever and need to be burned from a CD drive/software in the first place. This introduces scope for errors which will then be duplicated along with the audio.
  2. CDr is a lower quality product as far as age and durability is concerned. Because these CDs have been effectively printed onto the layer on the top of the readable side is a lot less durable than a commercial CD. You may have even seen this peel off if a CDr is left in a car for example.
  3. As each individual CDr is burned from scratch in a new distinct drive, sequential CDrs are less likely to be consistent. For example if there is a problem with a drive within the stack of 5 used to make the CDr each time this drive is used you are potentially creating a dud product.

I have used this format for releases myself, and many people choose to still as it is a very cheap way to give punters at live shows a product to purchase. But be aware that you are rolling the dice to some degree just by using CDrs.

The standard for a commercial released CD Audio disc you will find a shop is a replicated CD.

These products which we are all aware of also include the risks of age and damage, but to a much smaller degree. Replicated CDs are manufactured in a similar way to vinyl, as in they are physically pressed as a virgin product using a glass master. When ordering a CD from a production company you will often this glass mastering as a cost as it is a bespoke production master made for your CD.

Replicated CDs are incredibly cheap now so my personal suggestion is unless you are making a handful for a show or tour consider making a replicated CD run and giving away any additional copies to fans or promo if you have any left over after the initial sale has died down. This means if someone pulls out your release to listen to or rip to their computer in ten years time it is a lot more likely to work as the day the master was made and therefore reconnect you to your listeners.

Spotify releases new specifications for loudness and mastering

From the Spotify for artists website:

( https://artists.spotify.com/faq/mastering-and-loudness#will-spotify-play-my-track-at-the-level-it’s-mastered )

Ensure your master stays below -2db True Peak (TP) to be optimised for the lossy formats we use (Ogg/Vorbis and AAC), which, like all lossy formats, do not handle loud peaks well.”

“Generally, you won’t benefit from mastering louder than -14dB integrated LUFS due to Loudness Normalization. There’s no harm in doing so, but the tracks won’t play louder than that.”

The above means we now have targets to aim for. How I will amend my services to meet these is still in development, but it sure is great to know now!

Joe Caithness Mastering’s “Guide to Digital Audio for Musicians” Part 1 : CD Audio

Welcome to part 1 of my new series of blogs to help musicians from a non engineering background understand some of the things they will encounter with audio formats. First up is CD Audio.

First of all, so we have an understanding of how CD Audio differs to other consumer formats, we will look at the specifications for CD Audio, which are as follows:

2 Channel Stereo Audio

Sample Rate : 44.1kHz

Bit Depth : 16 Bit

Length (Recommended by Sony) : 74 minutes

Length (Theoretically possible) : around 85 minutes (most plants will reject anything close to this!)

Maximum Track Count : 99

 

What is the disc itself actually made up of?

The data on a CD is split into three parts:

1. Lead In – This contains the Table of Contents, which is easiest described as the index of the tracks on the CD

2. Program Area – Where the audio data is contained

3. Lead Out – describes the last area of non audio data stored on the CD

What IS a “Red Book” CD?

Red Book” describes a compact disc which conforms to the original CD Audio standards developed in 1980 by Sony and Phillips. Non Red Book conforming CDs will play on most CD players, although some of the specifications deal with the physical capacity of a disc (length of audio), and non-conforming lengths are not guaranteed to play back on all systems.

The “Red Book” standard is the officially recognised standard by the IEC for consumer and duplication systems.

The name comes from the original manual for CD-DA standards used by engineers and designers which had a red cover, apparently!

The term for this format was originally CD-DA (Compact Disc – Digital Audio), but some times you see Audio CD or simply just CD being used on sales descriptives for this format.

Almost all the CDs you will have ever bought for music will be CD-DA, although they are various additional formats which came after the initial wave of commercial CD.

What non audio data can be added to a standard audio CD?

CD Text is a specific addition to the Red Book standard which allows extra user defined text to be displayed on compatible players.

The correct name for data within a CD Audio master which isn’t audio is its “meta-data”.

CD Text allows these to be displayed on CD Text compatible CD players and computer audio programs.

Areas of the user definable additional meta-data available on a modern CD Audio product are:

Product identifying information –

UPC/EAN (or Bar-code, for entire CD):

ISRC Code (per track on CD):

CD Text information –

Track Title:

Album Title:

Track Artist:

Album Artist:

Track Songwriter:

Album Songwriter:

Track Composer:

Album Composer:

Track Arranger:

Album Arranger:

Track Message:

Album Message:

Genre:

What is a DDP?

DDP stands for “Disc Description Protocol” and is a file set format used for the delivery of audio CDs. We use these as they are not prone to errors like transferring audio files via the internet and re encoding them without being able to check to CD Audio at the last stage and errors such as can occur in physical CDr masters.

It is a folder (often in a ZIP or RAR when delivered) and must contain the following:

Audio image(s) (.DAT file(s))

DDP Identifier (DDPID)

DDP Stream descriptor (DDPMS)

Subcode descriptor (PQDESCR)

These are all created by the mastering software and are not adjusted by the recipient.

Sometimes an additional text file (often called a PQ read out or Cue) can be founding inside these folders for checking against the resulting manufactured CD.

You cannot play a DDP like an audio file!

Most DDP programs allow us to create digital masters which correspond exactly with the DDP as a reference. This plus a text file allows you to confirm the information inside the DDP without actually playing or accidentally damaging it!

HOFA are an excellent company for mastering software and provide a DDP player, which is also great for reading back DDPs where they are the only surviving master.

 

Although digital streaming services currently outnumber CD in term of consumer usage they very much still exist and are part of the audio product market. I hope now people who are not audio engineers and technicians have a good idea of the language and technologies applied!

Joe Caithness Mastering’s “Guide to Digital Audio for Musicians” Part 0.5 : Language and Terminology!

Sometimes communication breakdowns around language in music projects can slow down your workflow and generally kill the vibe. And by that, I don’t mean that you’d be working with people who speak different language for which you’d have to rush to Translation Services Singapore and go through that ordeal. I’m talking about the lingo, the argot that people in the music business use.

So let me take a moment to explain in the most practical way possible some of the terms you will come across with digital audio….

(Digital Audio) Sampling : How to turn an analogue signal (continuous voltage) into a digital signal (1s and 0s). The computer reads the input signal a defined amount of times a second and stores these as amplitudes. The stored information played back results in a recreation of the original signal. This is not the same as sampling in production/composition, although in this case they are related terms!

PCM : Pulse Code Modulation. A clever bit of science which allows computers to store audio as digital information. Almost all digital audio playback and storage uses PCM. (see Sample Rate / Bit Depth).

deciBel or dB : The measure of amplitude of sound. There are many types of dB which are calibrated and quantifiable to other measurements i.e. voltage = dBV.

dBfsdeciBel Full Scale. The range of values available in a digital audio system. This is measured from 0dBfs (the highest) backwards in negative values i.e. “the audio peaks at -0.5dBfs”. Anything with a positive value in dBfs is called a clip or over (see below).

Sample Rate : How many times the computer samples an audio signal per second. (example 44.1kHz, 96kHz).

Bit Depth : How many different values the computer can chose from when sampling. (example 16 bit, 24 bit).

DAC : Digital to Analogue converter. A device which takes the digital information and reproduces it as an analogue signal (voltage).

ADC : Analogue to Digital converter. A device which takes the analogue signal (voltage) and stores it as digital information.

Clipping : When an input signal contains values over which can be stored. These are sometimes called “overs” and usually results in a red light flashing somewhere.

Headroom : The distance between your highest amplitude signal (or highest value Bit) and clipping.

Dynamic Range : The difference between the highest amplitude and lowest amplitude usable in any audio system. In a digital audio file Dynamic Range can refer to the distance between loud and quiet, but there are way too many standards of this and none are really universally applied currently!

DAW : Digital Audio Workstation. Any program that you do things with digital audio in, it’s that simple!

File Size : The amount of space required to store any digital file. Measured in bytes, kilobytes, gigabytes, terabytes etc.

WAV : This is the standard full quality (or lossless, more on that later) recognized by all systems but created in a Windows or other non Apple based system.

AIFF : Essentially the same as a WAV in most uses but an Apple standardization developed parallel to WAV.

MP3 : The most common lossy audio file format which is commonly used in digital audio distribution and streaming.

AAC : Similarly to the WAV vs AIFF difference, this is a lossy format developed by Apple and used in their systems.

Lossless : This audio is at the full quality it was exported from the DAW .

Lossy : This audio has been data compressed and has changed from the original audio master.

Data Compression : A technique of removing some data from a file to reduce the file size on the disc it’s stored on and improve upload/download speeds. This is unrelated to Dynamic Compression!

File Archive : A way of storing data in a way as to save space on a hard disc. The most popular being the ZIP and RAR formats.

FLAC : Essentially a hybrid of the developments of Lossless and Lossy audio. The audio file retains its original data but the file size is reduced. This works a bit like a zip archive and therefore needs an encoder/decoder to operated.

File Transfer  : A way of sending files over the internet. This can be by email or using a service such as WeTransfer, Dropbox, Google Drive etc.

Distortion : Any change to a signal which is not applied purposefully. “What comes out which didn’t come in and isn’t part of the process of getting from A to B.” or “Input + Process = Output + Distortion”.

Real life usage example : “I limited the audio, but now I think I hear some distortion?”.

(Although you can add distortion if you like for an artistic effect, but “distortion” is probably a rabbit hole of linguistics we can’t really go down right now! )

Compressor (audio effect) : A device which limits the dynamic range by reducing the signal by a chosen ratio to is original amplitude at a chosen value.

Limiter : A device which limits the dynamic range by limiting any signal from going beyond a chosen value. A limiter which mathematically will not allow values over the chosen value is called a Brickwall. Limiting is different to standard clipping because limiting generally has parameters to adjust. (example “limited to -0.3dBfs” – there is no signal above that value).

Equalizer : A device which changes the tonal characteristic of audio by changing amplitude at different frequencies.

Vintage Digital Series #3 :Junger Audio DO2 Digital Dynamics Processor

I’m back on my vintage digital hype after a long break, mostly due to being deep into work doing masters and trying to fix various bits of obscure transfer gear I’ve picked up recently, maybe we’ll talk about that again soon but for now I’d like to tell you about something I picked up a few weeks back.

I had my eye on these Junger boxes after seeing various mastering houses who had the budget to buy new stuff and the inclination to not keep hold of old, hard to maintain, lower samplerate boxes, keep one of these in their racks alongside all the trendiest of modern analogue processing equipment.



They are ugly little guys, with a pretty dated user interface, that said they are a total breeze to use. 1RU of pure early 90s tech aesthetic, which if that’s your thing, well, fair enouh I guess. Junger is a German broadcast equipment company who at one time branched out into pro level mastering/pro audio gear. The Junger compressor/limiter/expanders appeared on the market soon after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and were the brainchild of Herbet Junger. There are also some broadcast only units on the market second hand as well as various versions of this unique compression design. I am told by mastering engineers I trust that the dynamic EQ is especially worth looking out for, but incredibly rare.

I grabbed this on a pretty weird broadcast wholesale second hand seller in the UK, who almost doubled the price I bidded on it in ridiculous fees which if I hadn’t got this for 100 bucks I would have told em where to stick it… this aside for £200 all in this was a steal. Even at it’s 48kHz max samplerate I can’t imagine this leaving the racks after a few weeks unless they come to some kind of arrangement to make a native plugin (go on!).

As readers of this blog may know I own a TC M5000, the original digital mastering rack unit. In the manual for the D02 (or at least the last revision, mine appears to be an earlier version) it compares their “muti-loop” to TC’s “multi-band” compression and explains where the Junger algo can do something nothing else on the market at the time could do.

As dated as this thing might look you simply cannot fault the sound of the units instant capabilities: perfect digital hard bypass, clean a whistle signal with no processing applied and a learning curve of about 2 minutes. The “multi-loop” I referred to is what we would now call “parallel compression” or “upwards compression” and if I’m honest I’ve never heard one I liked. Every time I tried to set up a parallel compressor I couldn’t get anything like the sort of RMS rise I wanted without hearing an exponential weirdness in the loud signals (now being summed against a heavily compressed version of themselves with some delay I guess…). But the Junger D02 I grabbed for 200 quid the other week changed my mind.



After working out that it’s basically reacting to whatever digital juice you pump into it and you have 1 dB steps at the front of the unit to drive more or less, I got something completely usable within about 20 seconds. 

The Junger compression is so easy you end of second guessing yourself if you’re used to complex push and pull in hefty analogue mastering compressors. You pick a mode (1 to 4 for different time constants), you pick a ratio (which is essentially compression amount here, as each ratio has its own make up gain built in), you match the peak level on the genuinely decent VU meters on the output, and finally you bypass.

Has it added level and perceived loudness, yet kept the loud elements rock solid where they were before? Yep then it’s working. That’s really all it is. But man, when it works it can do something light years more transparent than downward traditional compression. This became really obvious to me on a very sensitive piano/vocal recordings I mixed a few years back which I like to pull up to put new units through their paces. All the haunting and dramatic stabs of the piano and vocals emoting dynamically were kept clean and in the same place, but the droning low end of the piano, the reverbs, all that detail had jumped up, making a kind of thick/wide/exaggerated effect on everything BUT the lead elements. This is the parallel I had always dreamed of, but never achieved! I literally went “aaah! that’s it!”.

I haven’t tried the expander yet, but the limiter and AD/DA is basically for the bin I am afraid, but come on, this unit is as old as some engineers!

I urge any mastering engineer, or any mixing person dealing with acoustic music especially to grab one of these when they inevitably come up cheap again, you’ll be surprised.

Mastering Engineers are not Audiophiles

People often ask me about posh HIFIs out of the blue in the pub or on social media. Presumably this is because I post all about electronic music boxes and talk about frequencies and stuff. It took me years to work out why I was associated with people who spend money endlessly tweaking audio players and talking about new fancy streamers (I didn’t know what one of these was until two months ago when I finally bought myself a new HIFI, mostly because I wanted to listen to BBC 6 Music downstairs and it came with one!). Recently it dawned on me: because I care about good sounding audio professionally I must be on a personal quest for audio perfection at home. I guess it makes sense in a way; I do get paid to care more about audio playback than anyone else essentially, right?

It’s true; my job is to care about audio. But that’s not what being an audiophile is. My aim here isn’t to insult people who are into their HIFIs as a hobby or to cast aspersions on the people who do, but to draw a line between those who seek to make audio work for everyone and those who seek to make audio work for themselves.

When I master a piece of audio I have one aim in mind: To make this audio as enjoyable and accessible to those who chose to listen to it.

I am not interested in the audiophile listening rigs unless my client has briefed me that they are aiming to sell to that market.

I don’t ask why the end user is listening on the format they are, whether this be ear buds, MP3, just in the car etc, I just accept that they do.

Music is so important to a human’s happiness, I wouldn’t for a second prejudge how and why people chose to engage with it. I’m just so happy they do and I’m happy I get to play a role in that. Furthermore I find the idea that people who can’t afford good systems should have their experience de-legitimised so offensive. If all you have is a phone, ear buds and Spotify I want you to feel as much of the emotion the composer intended as possible.

The language sometimes used by audio engineers to patronise listeners who don’t spend their time and money on systems to enjoy music on is not only problematic politically it is also self defeating. This is exemplified by how small incremental changes in audio format standards are sold as monumental revolutions in the audio industry and rely on cynical marketing techniques and “emperors new clothes” story telling.

I want to democratise good audio. I can do this in my daily work by being open minded and listening to my clients (and their consumers) needs, not by lobbying audio companies or paying lip service to corporations redesigning the wheel. Good audio playback is great, but then again so is a weekly deep tissue massage and fine wine, this doesn’t mean everyone has ac
cess to them, and they should not be benchmarks for a “good life”.

If you want to be part of the push for better audio standards be my guest as it will make my job easier and make the music I purchase more enjoyable, but it’s not my role.

Joe Caithness – Owner / Head Mastering Engineer – Subsequent Mastering

Vintage Digital Series #2 : TC Electronic – M5000 / MD2 Mastering

Hey there, it’s been a while since I dropped in on this whole “Vintage Digital” thing. It’s kinda funny, I get some funny jibes and then some people genuinely intrigued when it comes to this stuff, I can’t deny that I do keep looking to pick this stuff up super cheap on eBay, but at the time same let’s be clear that most of my stuff is really going to sound like super low distortion digital cleaning up and super sexy sounding expensive analogue-ness, as that’s my normal rig…

That said, I had a few interesting experiences recently. Firstly I was offered a big beast of a Weiss BW-102 system (see previous more for more info on this old monster) and secondly I had a piece of gear come back from the dead. The BW-102 was a steal, and I wonder who got it, but the shipping from the states would have killed me.

But before we get to that I must be slightly candid and anecdotal. A few years back now I ended up losing my current mastering space (which wasn’t great, to say the least) and having to move into a pretty blank space, which had auxiliary uses. It wasn’t perfect, but I come from a DIY background with that kinda working class mentality that you have to work, you can’t sit around waiting for something else to happen, so I made it work. In some ways it was great, it made me sell stuff I didn’t use and forced to me seriously look at my routing, gain structure and work flow. The space was also occupied by another mastering engineer, Dallas Simpson, and for about a year we lived completely separate mastering lives. It was only crossing over by accident sometimes that we got chatting about the gear we had. I asked him if he knew what “X format” was he could explain in detail some legacy formats I hadn’t had the chance to work on, for example, and he would ask me about some analogue gear I had (he was working all on digital hardware and some plugins) and I could show him sounds he didn’t have in his arsenal. One day I was bemoaning my lack of de-essing capabilities, I had some kind of free plugin but it wasn’t great and was more of a mixing quick fix thing, therefore not so great for serious mastering work. For the year which had passed I had been staring as this odd looking TC Electronic brick-like thing in his rack (which was now combined with both our gear to stop dragging stuff around), I’ll be honest and say I thought it was kinda funny looking and assumed it sounded like crap. He suggested I gave it a go, I was even looking at other stuff from DBX, Drawmer etc, and it wasn’t until another local engineer was like “Joe, check out that TC thing, seriously, that’s pretty much the one everyone uses in an old box”. So Dallas chucked the manual in the room, in all it’s 90s folder glory and I sat down and read it.



I had no idea if this thing even had the MD2 section the forums told me about, and to his credit Dallas didn’t know, and didn’t need to care! There is something I find myself jealous of when an audio engineer doesn’t know what’s inside a box because they’ve been doing busy doing work on it day in day out to go on a forum and wax lyrical! But that’s another topic entirely….


After navigating the somewhat obtuse manual and documents I found online I worked out that the MD2 for the M5000 was an additional bolt on you can upload to the box and provided two bits of software for mastering and it WAS installed, alongside the reverbs and other effects the box is possibly most known for. This is split into two sections:

The Digital Toolkit
and
Multiband Dynamics


The Digital Toolkit is a kinda nuts and bolts for fixing up digital audio signals, and for it’s time is actually mind blowingly useful. I remember the original DAWs for home PC and they had almost none of this stuff… M/S matrix with degrees, DC offset filtering, Fletcher and Munson based fading, 4 band parametric EQ with assignable filters AND variable filter shapes. OK I don’t use this much, but I’m training my interns to use the EQ on this as I think not having a screen and having to really chose bands is super useful for their ear training.

The Multiband Dynamics is the big daddy, this is THE multiband compressor design for serious audio work. And by that I mean the engineering behind this is the basis of almost all that came after it, and if you hear this thing, you’ll realize TC absolutely nailed it first time. I have spoken about Mutliband Compression and how it’s actually used in mastering in another blog spot, but I will go ahead and say that there are Finalizers/finalisers/automastering units and there are multiband pro mastering units, this falls in to the latter (although yes, the Finalizers are a kinda bastardization of this exactly processing).

This gives you 1, 2 or 3 bands to work with (this is important, the Finalizers don’t do this, they are always in crossovers), and each band has individual discrete control of it’s sections: Compression, Limiting, Expansion.  This is no “set and forget” unit, this is a serious piece of audio manipulation gear. What’s more, the settings are all set to known musical parameter ranges (I’m pretty sure most of these are even in the latest MD5 generation too), they got it right first time.

I can control a low end where the kick is weak and the sub bass is overpowering in a bedroom dance music mix as well as pushing that nasty hi-hat back into the upper mids where the snare and vocal sit before I even hit analogue. Or I can use it’s firm and somewhat glassy 90s sound as an effect. It’s EQ sounds to me almost exactly the same as the System6000 original EQ (I wonder if they null?). When it comes to restoration there are ways in which we can rebuild broken areas of the dynamic range un-obtrusively.  This is a really flipping useful box! And the DA/AD ain’t too shabby either.

OK, it’s got a tiny green screen and it whines and growls when it’s on, but man, it sits on my desk and when I hear some program material that just sounds.. kinda wonky.. within minutes I can set the M5000 MD2 up to just nail it and forget I ever cringed. Then I can think about how I’m gonna add that bass, or get that mid range to the front etc.

If you’re a mastering guy and you like to use your hands over that exact nit picking with those many many dynamic eq/multiband/witchcraft plugins (I find them infuriating) then grab one of these off eBay, they are stupidly cheap generally and if you get one with two DSP cards you can do a LOT of work alone on this thing.

I thought this thing had blown up (turns out it was just one card), and after plugging it in the other day when our Powercore MD3 was bumming me out I am so happy it’s alive again. May the mastering brick ride another day!

Dance/Club Music Producers.. We Need to Talk About Your Bottoms!

Everyone likes fat bottoms right? Queen seemed to think it had something to do with gravitational forces they deemed it so important..

For a long time now club oriented electronic music made in bedrooms and destined for the dance floor has paid for me to live. I see many tracks come in and out in a week, therefore I pick up a lot of sonic characteristics over time which are not intrinsic to the composition. The biggest of this is how and where the low end of a mix produced to be played on a full range sound system at intense volumes is composed and mixed.

This is vital stuff, and I’d say 9/10 how us mastering guys deal with it is the difference between a good or bad club music master (way more than loudness played flat through a rig!).

I’m not looking to talk down or make anyone feel small with this, as it would be self deprecating also, as I am one of these people I describe (I produced/DJ’d electronic music as Littlefoot for many years). What I am seeking to do is find practical methods and advice for dealing with these issues.

Why does this happen?

It’s an educated guess but I’d say for the most part it’s due to the old classic:

1. Non full range speakers
2. Pushed levels
3. Small untreated/under-treated room

I’d say this set up fairly describes most bedroom/independent label/not pro producers set ups. Again, I’m not hating, there has been incredible music made in the last decade on small pairs of KRK, Yamaha, Adam etc monitors in student shared houses with the speakers stuck in a corner!… but it’s far from ideal, and doesn’t give us a whole lot to work with.

This is an extreme example but if we think of this as one end of the scale and a true mastering room as the other we can say most dance music is produced in something towards the budget/semi-pro level.


What is the result of this?

For the most part the result of this is a massive womp of level on the bass instruments in certain areas and massive holes in others (often areas a dance floor loves).

Classically you find that these rooms/speakers/listening rigs will have a combination of scooped sounding speakers (made to sound LOUD not FLAT) and sharp cut off in the low end, often with some kind of resonance. What I mean by this is the speakers go to say, 60Hz, but drop off hard and bump from 60Hz to 80Hz, often to create a false sense of bass. This is also unavoidable for many small speaker designs due to physics. This is always worse when the speakers are being over driven to “get that feeling”, unfortunately with a lot of these speakers the feeling can’t actually be produced, maybe try a pair of good headphones in this situation. 

So the producer isn’t in a great position, even if the song is perfectly musical and works using scales and harmonies with tonnes of space, when they come to do mix down they have wool cast over their ears.


This manifests in two ways in my experience:

1. Bunged up lower mids, with some excitation, caused by such things as EQ boost etc to get the track to flatten out alongside the above mentioned bass cut off boosting. This is almost always coupled with a big lack of actual sub (that good stuff that shakes your ribcage). This is easy to deal with, but means we gotta cut some good stuff (lower information from snare/percussion/synths/vocals) to make the bass go to the right place, it also (to my ears) sounds better to add some lovely analogue boosted low frequency stuff to a dance music mix than cut over excited/processed low end.

2. The infamous unheard sub! The bane of my life at times and a massive shame all the time. This is where the producer has programmed sub frequencies they are unable to hear. They are hearing something of source, a combination of the upper harmonics of the synth producing the sub and if we’re unlucky the resonance in their speaker low end cut off (and it’s partnered distortion.. ouch!). The main problem here is we have to recreate the low end from scratch, sometimes using multiband compression (as explained in previous blog post) and hard EQ notches. This is often call for a remix if it’s in extreme levels and is a root cause of many existential crisis among producers…


“It’s all very good telling us our monitors suck man, but seriously, what can we do?”

OK OK, it’s not all doom and gloom… Well first of all try speaking to us! make a relationship with a good mastering engineer who is friendly and understands what you are trying to achieve with your music. We don’t bite and aren’t all miserable sound engineer types. 

Secondly you can use your speaker specs/some simple room measurement techniques to work out what you can’t hear and use this information alongside a real time frequency analysis plugin, both of these things are free. If it’s not being created in your room, but it’s on your master output: don’t do it! or at least flag this for concern.

Thirdly, find some speakers which do go all the way down. You don’t have to use these to check other stuff, context is good and you can train your ears to be picky. If your mates bad boy car sound system or home cinema rig throws up every time you play your tracks through it, a club system is really going to struggle..

Hopefully this helps with getting your heads round one of the biggest conundrums of electronic music production. As ever drop me an email on subsequentstudio@hotmail.com if you have any questions and thanks for reading!



Multiband Compression : let’s talk about it calmly…

“Argh! get off my master! you’ve split the bands… you ruined my beautiful mix, multiband heathen!”

“The mix was finished but we couldn’t get that damn low C note to work, after hours of processing individual channels we stuck a compressor over that frequency range and tucked it right back in, it sounds so TIGHT now!”


Hang on a minute… what’s going on? Read any mastering forum and see people slamming their heads against the keyboards at the mention of multiband compression in the context of mastering. Why the hate? what even is it? and why is it so awful?


Multiband compression is a style of audio processing where the frequency spectrum is split up using a crossover (much like a PA or speaker system), processed, and then re summed back into one signal. In a true multiband system each signal created by applying a crossover has individual parameter control, which a single separate processor available for each band.


A fine visual example of crossover
(http://www.kvraudio.com/product/crossover_by_rs_met FREE crossover plugin by RS Met)

The technical theory of splitting bands, applying dynamic control and summing back together comes loosely from broadcast technology, where you have a lot of audio and a narrow everything (bandwidth, dynamic range) due to the nature of radio broadcasting and a large range of playback scenarios to consider. A famous type of multiband compressor all types of audio engineers use is a “de-esser”. This is a multiband compressor with only one band active to edit (often the highest band or a mid band focused on the S area of the human voice, or both). This technology is also replicated in vinyl cutting, often known as a “high frequency limiter”, but essentially the same thing tuned for a specific task.

So hang on, multiband compressors are on almost everything already? so why is there mention to quite a lot of audio engineers a cue to exhale a huge passive aggressive sigh?


Well this is what I’m hoping to debunk and offer some closure on. First of all, let’s take a short modern history lesson..


The advent of the compact disc in the 1980s  pushed for the development of digital mastering (and general audio processor) technologies. One of the first true pro audio devices taken up by audio engineers was the TC Electonic M5000 digital mainframe (http://www.tcelectronic.com/m5000/). This device was a host for several different algorithms, notably it’s NON LIN reverb/delay and it’s MD2 mastering software. Although clunky and limited by today’s standards this is still a HELL of an audio processor. It’s fixed at 44.1kHz and has a complex array of pages and layers to get to what you want, but if you want to control one to three frequency areas dynamically it’s still up there with the best! trust me, until it blew up, I was using my studio partner’s old M5000 (which sat in the rank infront of me for months until I even bothered to patch it in..) on many of my most successfully bits of work!


Man I miss this thing! The big black mastering brick…
(http://www.tcelectronic.com/m5000/)

It worked great, it’s a real pro tool with the kind of design which for audio engineers makes sense and to anyone else is pointlessly baffling. 

So what happened, this sounds great right? serious tool for serious bits of work. Well… TC took this technology in two directions: the M6000 (later known as System6000, now a standard in many pro audio suites) and the Finalizer series. The latter is possibly to blame for the misunderstanding of multiband compression, or at least its marketing.


A powerful tool is damaging in the wrong hands..
(http://www.tcelectronic.com/finalizer-96k/)

Big leaps forward in the programming of digital audio equipment had happened between the MD2 development and the Finalizer hitting the market, and this allowed for… presets..

Earlier I mentioned broadcast processing and multiband, this kind of fixed processing with all the bands engaged was totally the done thing in broadcast by now, but the current multiband mastering processors from TC and also other great companies such as Weiss (see previous article on their original digital mastering processor!) forced you to engage each band on request and set up from scratch. The Finalizer, and it’s competitors such as the DBX Quantum and Drawmer Masterflow allowed you to load settings with processing applied as default. It’s worth stopping at this point before I accidentally drag these units through the dirt to point out that all these units are pro standard audio processors, I would happily work with any of them, and before you think I hate the Finalizer, I have an OG 44.1kHz Finalizer which I bought to use as a second layer of that good old predictable TC multiband on really tricky/restoration jobs.


DBX Quantum: A fiddly thing, but with some features not found in it’s competitors
(http://dbxpro.com/en/products/quantum-ii)

Drawmer Masterflow: Slightly obscure now, but you’ll find a handful of MEs singing their praises online still
(http://fr.audiofanzine.com/processeur-dynamique/drawmer/DC2476-Masterflow/)

The issue here is how the user was convinced to use these specific units. The concept of presets/wizards/whatever is something which I can’t honestly say has done anything other than damage probably quite decent sounding recordings or trick people into hearing something they’re not. Aha, so now we are back to the beginning again, the whole “trashed recordings” thing, but before we smash our heads into our keyboards let’s have a think about this.

What sounds “bad” about a really well designed crossover, with top end compression with musically selected parameters and values on each resulting band? well, nothing! So why do we hear so many depressing screwed up, phase mis-aligned, smeary, pumpy messes? Because the button was there to press, and often placed at the start of manual and in big inviting print on the unit itself…. In the late 90s there was an arms race to sell “home mastering” gear to the sudden “project studio boom” (a revolution for the good for independent music!) and everything went a bit whacky. The resulting generation of pure confusion about multiband compression can be pointed towards this in my opinion. The shame is when people get multiband processing and ALL THE BANDS IN MOVING ALL THE TIME, which unfortunately is what a hell of a lot of those presets do.


The native plugin revolution in audio created a LOT, and I mean a lot of Finalizer clones, the most popular being Izotope Ozone, a plugin which when mentioned is like actors speaking openly of “the Scottish Play”.. but again, although this thing has some bizarre features such as mastering reverb(?!) it’s a pro level processor, it suffers from its marketing and pressure to make something crazy and colourful. It’s also worth mentioning that Izotope are no fools, their RX restoration software is only rivalled by the bafflingly expensive Cedar systems!


(Amendment #1 : as pointed out by two folks, the latest Ozone, as pictured, does away with the Mastering Reverb, good work!)

The dreaded Ozone! 
(https://www.izotope.com/en/products/mixing-mastering/ozone/)

To summarise: multiband was great, then confused, now great again. The truth is it never went away, and pro mastering engineers, the guys churning out the records we all enjoy never stopped using them, they just kinda had to go quiet for a bit…