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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Cytomic’s Andy Simper On How Good Analogue Modelling Really Is
Peter D’Antonio Sets A New Acoustics Standard
Level Up: 10 Experts On The Rise & Rise Of Game Audio
Last Word : AudioTechnology’s First Editor Returns
29 AT 7
NEXT GENERATION MIXER? It was way back in April last year, at Musikmesse, when Softube first revealed the Console 1 and — give them credit — the company openly said we wouldn’t see much more of the Console 1 until around about now. The wait is over. The Softube Console 1 is being touted as “the next generation audio mixer.” It can be used together with any major DAW and offers true analogue sound (provided by Softube’s own plug-ins), plus the analogue workflow of using physical knobs and buttons. Hmm… so it’s another controller? No, because the Console 1 controllers only affect its own plug-ins, in particular
a precisely-modelled plug-in of a Solid State Logic SL 4000E channel strip — and any other Softube plug-ins as well. So the concept is that to convert your DAW completely into a virtual SL 4000E you insert the Console 1 software over every channel and bus — and never touch any of your DAW’s native mixing controls again. It’s an interesting idea. The on-screen GUI plus LEDs on the hardware display all the information you need. Sound & Music: (03) 9555 8081 or www.sound-music.com
DYNAUDIO FLOATS A NEW FAMILY It’s not often we see something new from Dynaudio Professional, let alone four new near-field monitors, mounting solutions and two new precision subwoofers. The near-field monitors include the BM Compact mkIII, BM5 mkIII, BM6 mkIII and BM12 mkIII and on the subwoofer side, BM9S II and BM14S II. For a change, none of the model names are an indication of the speaker configuration — the BM5 and BM6 models use a 7-inch driver, for example. We’re not copping out — but rather than offer an exhaustive list here, it’s best to go to Dynaudio Professional’s website for a well laid-out web page on comparing the differences. Dynaudio Professional has also come to an arrangement with IsoAcoustics. Each of the new BM mkIII near-field monitors comes bundled with a dual-branded IsoAcoustics monitor stand that allows the monitors to float in free space — a bit like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, okay it’s not really floating, but the effect is achieved right? That’s not the only partnership. Dynaudio Professional also offers the TC Electronic BMC-2 Monitor Controller, providing complete monitoring systems. Amber Technology: 1800 251 367 or www.ambertech.com.au
TAKE YOUR PICK WITH TASCAM TASCAM has given this a bit of thought. It’s claiming to have bridged the gap between studio-quality recording and home recording with the UH-7000 USB 4x4-channel audio interface and standalone microphone preamp. First impressions are good. Tascam’s new HDIA (High Definition Instrumentation Architecture) is an entirely new design from Tascam for microphone preamps and is promising audio performance and specifications well beyond its price tag. Dual-sided PCM4220 AD converters provide up to 192k/24-bit resolution, the temperaturecompensated internal clock offers 1PPM resolution and a Burr Brown DA converter is at the other end of the line. An audiophile-designed power supply
makes sure you don’t run out of juice. The preamp is equipped with two XLR balanced inputs, two balanced 6.5mm inputs, two balanced XLR outputs, and AES/EBU digital out — giving the UH-7000 that tempting dual purpose as part of a recording/live setup, or plugged into a computer for DAW duties. A solid aluminium structure lets you kick it around the studio, the knobs are calibrated for custom-tapered gain settings and likewise designed to take any inadvertent punishment. Metering is via 20-segment LED peak meters. CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
DRAWMER MULTIBAND COMPRESSOR On its website Drawmer goes to some lengths to explain how multiband compressors work, and why anyone should want one. Don’t worry, most of us have been fiddling for 10 years with plug-in varieties of multi-band comps and already have a rough idea, and just looking at this Drawmer 1973 might be all the excuse you need to reach for the wallet. The Drawmer 1973 is a stereo, three band FET compressor that owes some of its pedigree to Drawmer’s S3, 1960 and 1968 models. It also includes more than a few features that we’re used to seeing in the virtual
world such as a Mute/Bypass switch on each band and a variable crossover point on either side of the midrange section. The low band has a ‘Big’ switch for enhancing bottom end and likewise the high band has an ‘Air’ switch. Output stage offers a wet/dry mix and a make-up gain control. The entire unit can be bypassed and the two VU meters should keep you occupied for hours. At a guess, the Drawmer 1973 will sell in bucketloads. Studio Connections: (03) 9874 7222 or www.studioconnections.com.au
DRUMATOM SPELLS THE END OF SPILL Plugin Alliance has released its revolutionary new Drumatom software, which removes spill from individual drum tracks after the recording takes place. The concept is that Drumatom will provide relatively clean tracks of each drum piece, at almost a sampler-like level of separation, without having to resort to noise gates or drum replacement techniques. Alternatively, any drum replacement trickery will work a lot better after Drumatom prevents any spurious triggering. Importantly, Drumatom is a stand-alone application, not a plug-in, so the workflow is to process each track and export them back into your DAW. Drumatom is a simple,
one-button control that dials in as much spillreduction as you want — at the expense of the actual drum sound if you go to extremes. The technology behind Drumatom is annoyingly (for magazines like us) called A^3 or ‘Advanced Audio Analysis’ developed by partnership company Accusonus, which is based in Greece and thus possibly some kind of justification for using irritating symbols in the technology label. You can demo Drumatom for 14 days. Note the price tag — some might argue that your money would be better spent on judicious microphone choice and placement…
THE MOTHER OF ALL EQS? IK Multimedia has released a new update of its T-RackS CS (Custom Shop) software, bringing it to version 4.5, and has announced at the same time the latest mastering goodie in the shop, the Master EQ 432. The EQ 432 is considered by many as the true mother of all parametric EQs, being the first ever to be designed and built introducing audio engineers to the parametric concept. History shows this initial design was also one of the best, regarded for a long time as the benchmark for pretty much every parametric EQ to follow. IKM assures us that modern modelling technology has allowed them reproduce the Master EQ 432 plug-in to perfection and, as always happens, let them chuck
in a few digital improvements (plug-in developers just can’t stop themselves…). T-RackS CS is a freebie shell you download, then you subsequently demo or purchase any of the mastering plugins IKM has available — many of them based on classic equipment. The Master EQ 432 will cost you US$149 and thankfully you can now buy stuff for T-RackS with a straightforward credit card transaction without mucking around with IKM’s annoying ‘credit’ system (which is still in place, too). Good move. Sound & Music: (03) 9555 8081 or www.sound-music.com
WOULD YOU PLUG IN A PREAMP PLUG-IN? When Universal Audio revealed the Apollo Twin at NAMM, it also announced new technology included in its UAD 7.5 Software called Unison, which is all about preamp modelling. Since it first appeared some years back, microphone modelling has always been a bit much to swallow — not to mention flirting with copyright trouble — the idea you can plug a mediocre mic into an interface and at the flip of a virtual switch turn it into an expensive, classic condenser sound. Modelling microphone preamps seems less unlikely, without physical things like polar patterns to contend with. Plus, it’s UA we’re talking about and, helping things along, this first Unison bundle is modelled on one
of UA’s own legendary preamps. Universal Audio founder Bill Putnam Sr. introduced the 610 Modular Amplifier preamp in 1958. The 610 is recognised by record producers for its harmonic detail, clipping characteristics and ability to overdrive in a warm, musical fashion. The UA 610 Tube Preamp & EQ Plug-In Collection includes both the classic 610-A model and modern 610-B hardware, and offers comprehensive modelling of the preamp design — including its tube and transformer components and distortion characteristics. Does it really sound like the genuine thing? That’s the $299 question. CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
WAVES GETS THE WOBBLES Another day, another Abbey Road, Beatles-era plug-in release. This time it’s Waves and the Waves/Abbey Road Reel ADT, which emulates Abbey Road Studios’ pioneering process of Artificial Double Tracking. ADT was the signature effect created at Abbey Road in the 1960s for the Fab Four (who couldn’t be bothered multi-tracking vocals anymore) and is apparently difficult to model exactly, because the original process used at Abbey Road has been a closely guarded secret — until now. Abbey Road engineer Ken Townsend created Artificial Double Tracking (ADT) and John Lennon reputedly dubbed ADT ‘Ken’s Flanger’, which some say (Jeremy Clarkson?) led to flanging becoming established as a technical
term in studios around the world. The secret? By connecting the primary tape machine to a second, speed-controlled machine, two versions of the same signal could be played back simultaneously. Gently wobbling the frequency of an oscillator and varying the speed of the second machine, the replayed signal could be moved around just enough to make it sound like a separate take. Pure genius in 1966 and worth a Waves plug-in today — with a few 21st century improvements chucked in. The Waves Abbey Road Reel ADT is native only. Sound & Music: (03) 9555 8081 or www.sound-music.com
LIVE NEWS SLAMMING BEATS SYSTEM HK Audio is claiming its Lucas Nano 600 is “the world’s first PA that can be deployed as a single column and as a stereo system”... hmm, HKA may want to rethink that one. However, the company does specialise in lightweight, portable speaker-ona-stick PAs that can double as mono column setups for lectern presentations and the like, or small stereo rigs for mobile DJ’s and solo/duo musicians. The latest Lucas Nano 600 components are a single 4.5-inch satellite top box, a dual version of the same and a 10-inch subwoofer. You can mix and match as required. The satellites are actively powered at 80W and the sub is 300W. The sub has an inbuilt threechannel mixer and five inputs (stereo RCA inputs make the extras) and controls for balancing however you’ve deployed the system. The subwoofer cabinet has a transport bay for the satellites. A bunch of accessories are available including a padded trolley bag — you’ll need to check with your retailer exactly what comes included in a system and what is an accessory that’ll cost. HK Audio tells us a full Lucas Nano 600 system will provide “slamming beats for up to 200 people”. Honest. CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
NEW YAMAHA CONSOLE LEARNS FROM CL Apparently a case of a chip off the ol’ CL block, Yamaha’s new QL series digital mixing consoles “inherit” the performance of its CL series — meaning, we guess, they have a lot in common. All of the effect and EQ processing capability in the CL series consoles is also in the QL consoles. Built-in automatic mixing functionality from Dan Dugan Sound Design supports a wide range of speech and broadcast applications. Otherwise, the compact QL series consoles are aimed at the small to medium scale live
sound applications. Two models will be available, the QL5 with 64 mono + 8 stereo mix channels, and the QL1 with 32 mono + 8 stereo mix channels. Both types feature 16 mix and 8 matrix output busses. Ample local I/O is also provided: 32 in/16 out on the QL5, and 16 in/8 out on the QL1. The QL1 can be rack mounted. More info where you can better compare the CL and QL series is at Yamaha’s QL product page. Yamaha Music Australia: (03) 9693 5111 or www.yamahamusic.com.au
THE ANCIENT ART OF MACKIE THUMP The portable PA system market is always highly competitive and Mackie has decided it’s time to give its smaller SRM350 (10-inch) and SRM450 (12-inch) speakers, plus its Thump range of powered subs, all a booster shot in the arm — an injection of 1000W, among other things. Both these SRM models now have 1000W amplifiers and DSP control that gives the user a choice of four speaker modes that re-voice the cabinets to suit the venue. If you still need help, there’s also an in-built feedback eliminator (FE) that clamps down on those nasty squeals and squeaks with a 1/16th octave filter. You get four bands of
feedback elimination, after that you’re on your own. An integrated two-channel mixer lets you use the SRM’s in a pinch without a mixer. The improved Mackie Thump (wasn’t that The Goodies’ ancient form of martial arts using black pudding?) powered subs come in 12-inch and 15-inch types and have effectively doubled in power from the predecessors with that 1000W. A new 18-inch model, the Mackie Thump 18S, has a 1200W amp. Mackie already has larger SRM models and 18-inch subs designs, and these improvements close the gap. CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL CONSOLE? When we pointed out Midas’ count-down clock to a thing called Neutron, it wasn’t clear if Neutron was a mixing console or the audio engine driving it. Now we know, after Midas jumped its own starter’s gun announcing early the “world’s most powerful live mixing console” — a claim that’s bound to poke the competition in the eye — with the 271-channel PRO X mixer that features Neutron DSP inside. The magical figure of 271 channels comes from 168 inputs and 103 outputs (with the latter alternatively counted as 99 ‘mix’ channels). The new Neutron Audio System Engine is the culmination of a three-year research and development program at Midas resulting in
architecture that delivers more than 100 gigaflops of real-time audio processing performance — apparently the Cray Supercomputer only managed a lazy 16 gigaflops. Interestingly, existing PRO 3, 6, and 9 owners can upgrade those systems to the new PRO X by replacing certain sections of their control surface, installing the Neutron DSP engine and using existing remote I/O to increase the physical connections. The list of Pro X features and functions goes on, ending in a slight bummer — the Pro X will be available “before the end of 2014”. Don’t hold your breath. National Audio Systems: (03) 8756 2600 or firstname.lastname@example.org AT 13
ANDREW SCHEPS Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adele, Weezer, Black Sabbath, Audioslave, Linkin Park, Green Day, U2, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Iggy Pop. Scheps works from his own facility in Los Angeles, Punkerpad West, which is an audiophile’s dream, filled to the brim with an astonishing amount of analogue gear, including two Neve 8068 desks, and a Neve BCM-10 sidecar with 1073 preamps. Scheps’ journey has been unusual in that he worked mainly with digital technology in the ’90s and early 2000s, then to a large degree moved back into the analogue domain, and only very recently went back in-the-box again. Photo: Mix With The Masters
Scheps: “In 1998 I was transitioning to going fully in-the-box. Then, when I was working with the Chili Peppers on Stadium Arcadium during 2005 we decided to record and mix entirely on analogue using a Neve. This informed my decision to buy a Neve 8068 console and to return to mixing outside the box. But last summer I went back to working in-the-box. The reason was that I was offered a project to mix just after I had done one of the Mix With The Masters seminars at La Fabrique studios in the south of France. I was still in France, and had the choice of hiring a studio or doing the mixes on my laptop, using the UAD box. I did the first mix on speakers I borrowed from La Fabrique, but I then mixed the rest on headphones, I think they were the Sony MDR7506s. So it wasn’t a sonic decision, but I rediscovered I actually really like working in-the-box. It’s really cool from a creative point of view. It’s great to be able to work on three or four songs at the same time, and also, even when people say they understand what it means to mix on a console, they’ll still call me a week later and will ask for detailed mix changes. So I thought I’d work in-the-box or on my desk depending on the project. “I actually spent some time talking with Tchad Blake about working in-the-box, and realised that if he, the ultimate analogue effects guy, can do it, then I don’t have any excuses. I have in recent months mixed many albums in-thebox, including by Ziggy Marley and Rodrigo
PRO TOOLS IMPROVEMENTS, APHEX 204, EURORACK MODULAR FORMAT y Gabriela, and I think they sound amazing. The good part is they sound like I mixed them. I’m setting up my in-the-box mixes to emulate the way I used to do them on the console. I am sometimes exactly recreating my hardware chains with plug-ins. It’s really stupid: all the faders on my desks are down, and the laptop is just sitting on top. I still have a bunch of outboard patched into my Avid HD I/O, most importantly a pair of Universal Audio 1176s, the Aphex 204, and the Moog Analogue Series 500 delay, but mostly on stuff I don’t need to do recalls on. I only use a single-fader controller, the Frontier Designs Alpha Track, because I don’t like the new controllers, I can’t tell quickly enough what tracks I’m looking at. I use that one fader for all my rides because I don’t like using a mouse for the automation. I still like to ride each instrument as a performance, as I used to do on the desk. But for the rest it’s all keyboard and mouse. I thought it’d be a difficult transition, but it turns out that it wasn’t. “Regarding the three most important new developments in gear, the progression of ProTools has to be one of them. I can’t point to one particular revision that really made the difference. It’s just continually been getting better and more powerful. The Aphex 204 Aural Exciter and Big Bottom came out
The Eurorack modular format… has rekindled my interest in exploring sound for sound’s sake
10 or so years ago, and it’s absolute magic, particularly on the toms. Nothing else comes even close and the plug-ins that are supposed to do the same thing don’t sound anything like it. It does this one really specific, weird thing. The Eurorack modular format is also really great, because so many companies are making so many crazy processing devices for it that I now have a 30 space rack full of modules that allow me to do anything I want to do, manual phasing, wave folding, crazy filters, whatever. It has rekindled my interest in exploring sound for sound’s sake. As for new working methods, I have gone much further with parallel mixing than I did in 1998. Today parallel compression is at the core of almost everything I do. I almost never use an insert anymore, except for basic EQ. I add excitement in a mix by using lots of different combinations of parallel compression.”
The hottest new professional digital mixing console release of 2014 is NOW SHIPPING
with Rupert Neve Portico and Dan Dugan Sound Design technology The multi-award winning CL-series raised live digital mixing console performance to an unprecedented level of refinement while maintaining traditional values that have made Yamaha digital mixers industry standards. With core features and performance inherited directly from the CL-series, the new QL-series consoles offer all-in-one mixing, processing and routing capabilities for live sound, corporate events, installations and much more.
QL-series launch video
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Both QL- and CL-series consoles are loaded with Rupert Neve premium effects racks. Learn more about the collaboration between Yamaha and the legendary Rupert Neve.
Dan Dugan talks about QL
The Dan Dugan Sound Design automatic mixing algorithm makes mixing multiple open microphones a breeze. Watch Dan Dugan talking about the implementation of his technology into QL-series mixing consoles.
To arrange a demonstration of the new QL-series digital mixing console at your facility, please contact Yamaha Music Australiaâ€™s commercial audio team by emailing email@example.com Alternatively, Yamaha Music Australia will be conducting regular QL- and CL-series training sessions thoughout ENTECH CONNECT, 23rd-24th July at the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest. FIND A DEALER au.yamaha.com
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK facebook.com/yamahaca AT 17
From code-breaking jumbled genres to crafting fresh analogue circuits out of software emulations… For modelling maestro Andrew Simper all it took was a little feedback. Story: Andrew Bencina
I can still remember the first time I saw Bomb Factory’s BF76 plug-in. At the time, I would have struggled to recognise the legendary compressor on which it was modelled let alone describe its sound. Still, I was entranced by its direct connection to the studio world I yearned to experience. In the 15 or so years since, ever more developers have chosen to brandish the ‘Analogue Modelled’ standard as a universal indicator of quality and authenticity. I’m certain, for many newcomers, adolescent gear lust first takes root via these virtual d’vices. But what’s it all about? Does my software interface need to look like a wall-o’-rack at Ocean Way? And are the tones I’m hearing capturing the musical mojo or just the myth? It’s time to call circuit whisperer Andrew Simper and get some answers. Based in Perth, Andrew has spent the last decade etching his own path through the intricate field of component-level modelling of analogue audio circuits. His Cytomic plug-ins — The Glue and The Drop — continue to feel like well kept secrets in spite of their popularity. A recent well-publicised collaboration with Ableton has seen The Glue’s rebirth as a AT 18
native Live device and the contribution of a new linear state variable filter (SVF) algorithm for EQ8. It’s rapidly closing in on 20 years since his debut Vellocet VReorder plug-in first garnered international interest, but it was Simper’s time at FXPansion that has proved to be most influential on a career now dominated by the analysis, emulation and modification of classic analogue audio gear. Andrew Simper: When I arrived at FXPansion I still didn’t own an engineering textbook. I hadn’t done any circuit analysis. I just managed to code stuff by ear that sounded reasonable and used some interesting ideas. While there, two things happened. Firstly, Antti Huovilainen wrote a prominent paper on the non-linear modelling of a Moog low-pass filter. He actually went through breaking down the circuit in a practical way that opened the door to me, thinking this stuff can be done. Secondly, FXPansion wanted a model of a bus compressor for BFD 2. All of a sudden that was my job and I had to learn how to model. They provided me with a hardware unit to A/B against (an SSL X-Logic G series compressor) and with a bit of help from Antti, we got going.
GLUE DROP As well as turning Ableton’s EQ offering into a useful plug-in, Andy Simper’s own company, Cytomic, has two products — the lauded The Glue compressor (right), modelled on the famous SSL bus compressor, and The Drop, an analogue-modelled resonant filter plug-in.
You can’t change the voltage rails on your analogue compressor very easily, but you can in a model — it’s a trivial thing
Andrew Bencina: How do you start? What are the tools you need to make a good analogue model? AS: So, apart from having the physical circuit and an oscilloscope, you need an audio interface so you can listen to and record the circuit. An input, kind of like a microphone preamp — something with high impedance. When you plug into different parts of the circuit they need to be buffered so that you’re not leeching current and affecting how things sound. Finally, you need some circuit simulation software. Most of it’s on Windows and there are some free ones. The main program I’ve been using is an open source application called QUCS (Quiet Universal Circuit Simulator). It has excellent technical documents running through the algorithms in a lot of technical detail, which is perfect. QUCS is great at some things while other simulators are better at handling other circuits and have better component libraries for reference purposes. Just like audio production, you use whatever available tools you have to get the job done. I don’t think I could have gotten to where I am now without all of these resources. When electronic circuits were first made, you had resistors and inductors and some capacitors and people started building things which could process audio. Things started to move to valves and then into solid state components, like diodes and transistors. Most of the time, people building audio circuits understood the basic operation, the theory, and so could design and construct circuits without simulating anything. You just build them and then listen. In engineering you can build a chair or a table, it’s not until you build a bridge that you need to start thinking about simulating and checking stress levels. The ‘bridge’ threshold in electronics was integrated circuits.
There was a lot of cost involved — and still is — in making the blueprint, like a master disc, for a chip. If you screw it up then you’ve just lost a lot of money. That’s why they started making these circuit simulators. Those integrated circuits were for analogue tasks as well as digital ones
but you couldn’t actually simulate a circuit without a computer. At the same time you can’t build a better computer without the simulator, so progress came directly from the interaction between the two. For audio, there’s a bunch of different imperatives, things which are more important and musically pleasing so you actually have to go out of your way to add component variation. Even now, manufacturers do their best to try and get a reasonable model going but it’s just not going to completely capture all the operational variability of the real components. For practical design purposes, if you build it, it’s not going to do something unexpected. But audio is all about tone and exactly how it works, not just, ‘Does it work?’ Luckily, most of the large level features are already captured by models, so for those it’s just a matter of fine tuning the parameters. There’s a lot of analogue modelling where people use the brand ‘analogue modelled’ but really, the detail is lacking. But, just so your readers know, it does actually work. Good software emulations do model, to a very large degree of accuracy, what’s going on in the circuits and sound really good. There are however a bunch of issues to get it right and it does take a lot of CPU. So, basically, if something is running really efficiently, it’s probably not modelling much. Just because you have access to a word processor you’re not automatically an author. Anyone can fire up a circuit simulator and add all the components and simulate it, but that doesn’t give you a plug-in that is useful and processes with low CPU and is fun to use and sounds good.
Then the other side of it is… ‘Okay, so these components do matter. What are they doing? What are the manufacturing constants of these components and their large-scale operational behaviour? Their high-level capacitance and resistance, their saturation currents?’ I’m not interested in exactly matching a particular circuit, because if you bought another unit it would be slightly different. I’m interested in capturing the high level model parameters and then being able to vary them in a natural way, and simulate the construction of each component’s variability because that’s an important part of the sound. There are a lot of components in a circuit and none of them are exactly matched. When the audio runs through each of these slightly mismatched components it all adds up. You also have to listen — sometimes with your eyes. Your ear isn’t attuned to low frequency behaviour so well. They’re really good at the buzzy side of things but when it comes to low frequencies, you can have two versions of a slightly high-passed signal, one that has no DC
AB: What is the thing that separates the great model from the all-so-ran? How do you make all of those decisions about musical sound at the component level? AS: There’s two sides to it. Firstly, which components can you actually hear? Half of analogue modelling for me is optimisation. Which components can I throw away while still maintaining the core operation of the circuit.
Andy Simper: Mr Cytomic, the ‘circuit whisperer’
Everything is just another number so there are physically unrealistic situations that are quite reasonable within a model
blocking on it, and they’ll sound really similar. Look at them on an actual waveform view, an oscilloscope and it’ll look completely different. For the high frequencies I do use a spectrum analyser — just to make certain the balance of harmonics is exactly right — but generally you can hear if you’ve captured the right kind of ‘buzziness’ to the top end. One other important area of simulation is noise modelling. That side of things is really computationally expensive. You can do some basic things to add a bit of noise and for it to be at the right points in the circuit but it’s really something I don’t think has been done in any great detail by anyone yet. AB: Do you have to be able to build your own circuits?
AS: That’s the thing. It always sounds best. When I include a shortcut hack to accomplish a task, typically it sounds bad. If I measure that it’s actually just draining a bit more current from here I can add a resistor. Too much high frequency there, so put in a blocking capacitor and then it sounds good. I always try and accomplish a task with components. I can cheat a bit, for example, a perfect op-amp which doesn’t saturate, is a perfect buffer and can deliver any amount of current without blowing up. But the majority of the time I’m designing everything as a component in the circuit, so I can build it. Every single one of the models I’ve done includes modifications. Either it’s more convenient in a digital format or once you’ve identified a musically useful aspect of the circuit, it’s nice to be able to parameterise it and perhaps add a knob to control it. On The Glue, there’s the Range knob, that’s modelling some saturation in the side-chain. You can’t change the voltage rails on your analogue compressor very easily, but you can in a model — it’s a trivial thing. For the filters in The Drop, the source you’re affecting could be a full mix or just a buzzy sawtooth. Different things are more appropriate in each situation so I made modifications to the Sallen-Key MS-20 circuit. I’ve redesigned the high-pass circuit to be a two-pole filter, instead of the original’s single pole. It’s quite a big redesign but it could be
physically built… and it sounds really good. AB: If you wanted to run as accurate a model of The Glue circuit as is currently possible would that use up 100% of the resources of a current machine? AS: It would. When you do circuit modelling for each sample you have to loop over multiple times to converge on the solution. These are non-linear equations which you have to solve using numerical methods and so you can only move onto the next sample once you’ve solved the current one. Due to all the feedback loops and energy storage components, you cannot run this in parallel. If you loaded a full schematic of a bus compressor into something like QUCS, and then tried to process some audio, it would probably take you about 10 minutes to render a second of audio at a reasonable sample rate. I see
audio moving towards the approach employed within the 3D industry, where you have a preview mode and a render mode. I already have this in all of my software. You get to pick the amount of oversampling headroom you have in a real-time preview, as you do for an off-line render. This makes a big difference to the audio quality, even for a compressor. I think for really good analogue modelling, that’s the level at which you have to operate. Then instead of the mix just using the same model as the real-time playback, you can step things up and switch to a full circuit
simulation of all the necessary components. You still won’t want to use a circuit simulator, because rendering would be glacially slow, but I’m working on automating the process of generating and solving these models so it uses as efficient a solver as possible while still allowing for huge systems of equations. Computers will get faster but people will always want large track counts so there’s always going to be a trade-off. AB: In recent years we have seen a shift towards a lot of new hardware designs, perhaps in part fuelled by the broad adoption of standards like the 500 series rack in audio and the Eurorack in modular synthesis. AS: There are a lot of boutique analogue places opening up, which I think is brilliant. The number of Eurorack modules, produced by people like Tip Top, incorporating DSP elements, is cool and the integration of computers into modular systems via audio rate control is really positive. Hopefully, some of that energy and development can be brought to DSP land. Not just in terms of directly modelling their work but by making new models of circuits that have never been built. There’s far more scope to do that and avoid all the production overheads of physically manufacturing the circuit. The beauty of course being that you can have all kinds of variations and modifications available in a single plug-in. I can’t predict the future but I know it’ll move beyond
the possibilities of analogue circuitry. Different things can happen because of what computers are and the level of control and recall you have. Everything is just another number so there are physically unrealistic situations that are quite reasonable within a model. You can’t suddenly unsolder and resolder a component during a performance but you can automate a model to change components every 16th beat. You can’t put a knob on the manufactured component and tweak its tolerances. You can’t do any of this stuff, it’s just fixed in stone. But everything is just a number on a computer. The tone of analogue modular systems is kind of alive, distorted and gritty. And while a digital model can only reproduce some of this, you’re able to control that system in very different ways: the noise, the tone. Every part of that model is optional. In audio if it sounds good and you like it then it’s good, I mean that’s just all there is. But I’d never enforce upon a user that their signal will be distorted at mix down; it should be a choice. The Glue is a pristine version of a bus compressor where the stereo image is perfect. The only way you achieve this in hardware would be to process your left signal separately to your right signal through the same channel and then combine them. This is the level of precision computers can offer. AB: But as a software developer you’re still
buoyed by the same spirit that is driving this new wave in analogue? AS: Yeah, definitely. I’m excited by it and get inspired by having all these cool little things to play with. It just makes music more fun. Hopefully, I’ll be contributing analogue circuits to model as well. In doing The Drop I’ve probably got 10 different filter ideas that I could build in a circuit, model and then implement in both hardware and software. Giving musicians access to good sounding tools is a really positive thing — whether it’s done through a model or a physical unit. It’s good to have both. It wasn’t the people inventing the sampler that made new musical movements happen. The musicians made it happen. I think that’s just how the evolution of ideas works. It’s always this feedback loop; like me doing VReorder. Coil and Danny Hyde remixed Nine Inch Nails’ track Gave Up, doing all of these intricate manual vocal edits and I thought, ‘That sounds cool. Let’s take that sound and do something more with it.’ Hopefully VReorder inspired people to write more non-linear processing units making it easier to achieve these musical tasks. Once you’re no longer stuck in a wave editor with a pair of scissors, you can do more things more easily, with a higher level of control, and that opens up more options for musicians who then go on to create new sounds.
MANNY MARROQUIN Kanye West, Rihanna, Eminem, John Mayer, Imagine Dragons, The Rolling Stones, Linkin Park, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, Christina Aguilera, Usher, Flo Rida, John Legend, Cher, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton. It sometimes appears as if Manny Marroquin and Serban Ghenea carve up more than half of all the world’s top 10 pop mixes between them, though Marroquin has also branched out into other genres. Marroquin has won five Grammys and works in Larrabee Sound Studio 2 in Los Angeles, where pride of place goes to an 80-input SSL XL 9000K console, surrounded by an extensive collection of outboard. Photo: Mix With The Masters
Marroquin: “15 years ago I was still using tape, and making the transition from analogue to digital, via ADAT and the Sony 3348 and the Tascam DA88. Making that transition took a while. At the time, my effects were 100% outboard, but today I’d say that I’m 50-50 between outboard and plug-ins. 15 years ago a recall could take four to six hours and would cost money, so people had to think twice before asking to have that kick a little louder. But we now live in a world of updates, with things continually being tweaked. This is where stems are incredibly important for me, because I still far prefer to work on a desk. It means that I can grab several different buttons at the same time, whereas I can only do one thing at a time in-the-box. This means that mixing on a desk is still a lot quicker than mixing in-the-box. GAME CHANGERS
WAVES L2, BRICASTI M7 REVERB, THERMIONIC CULTURE VULTURE As for specific new toys that really inspire me, the Waves L2 has changed the way we do and listen to music. It’s not just a matter of things being louder, it also has a sound. The Bricasti is my favourite reverb. There were digital reverbs before, but there’s nothing like it, and it’s very inspiring to work with. The Thermionic Culture Vulture also has been a real inspiration in terms of adding grit to the digital gloss. “I find that in mixing today, less is more. Even though I have many more tools, I need less of them. The reason is the producer now has the
same tools at his disposal as I do, so that delay or particular reverb he’s looking for is often already added during the rough mix. I get rough mixes that the producers will have spent a lot of time on and sound really good, and this makes my life trickier, because I still have to find a way to make it better! In the past I might also have spent more time arranging the music, for example creating a drop in the drums just before the chorus. Nowadays it’s more about the art of EQ and balancing, and compressing things in the right way. So I do less, but still have to do enough to make sure the song is better. The line between what the producers do and what I do has become more blurred. “It’s the same with mastering. I now have the ability to premaster what we’re doing, which is better for the artist, because they can get a much better impression of the final product as well. I did not have these tools before, whether it’s a plug-in, a brickwall limiter, or a multiband compressor, but they’re now at my fingertips. It allows me to go for a final product, so there’s less guessing and less room for error. Now 95% of what I hear on the radio is what I intended, for better or worse! 15 years ago it was maybe not even 50%. The tools we have to make music with have become so much better. I have so many tools in my arsenal now, it is incredible. Sadly, consumer media has not improved, so that’s what we need to work on in the industry.”
The line between what the producers do and what I do has become more blurred
ROLAND AIRA TR-8
RHYTHM PERFORMER The TR-8 has finally dropped, and its sound doesn’t disappoint. But does it have the same feel as the original?
NEED TO KNOW
Review: Blair Joscelyne
PRICE $649 CONTACT Roland: (02) 9982 8266 or email@example.com
PROS Construct a classy-sounding 808/909 dream kit Light up interface enhances control Scatter control adds modern touch Added attack, compress & snap controls Per step effect assignment
CONS Clunky buttons feel outdated No sample import
SUMMARY The TR-8 is what it seems: A great-sounding, digital update to Roland’s famous TR-808 and 909 drum machines. It adds modern touches like Scatter and step assignable effects, though the buttons aren’t modern to the touch.
I bought my first analogue drum machine back in the early 1990s. I was 14 years old and it was a Roland TR-606 I picked up for $50. That may sound cheap for such a classic piece of gear, but back then it was a pretty expensive metronome, which is all I was using it for. Certainly I wasn’t going to use it for drum sounds — that’s what I had the Alesis SR16 for. I guess for me, it just wasn’t that cool, yet… Of course this was an attitude that a lot of people shared until they realised just how incredible and surprisingly versatile these drum machines were across a host of genres, even though the palette is somewhat restricted compared to what we have access to today. This large-scale adoption across a variety of different genres, combined with grass roots hype, would solidify Roland as the analogue drum machines of choice for a generation. The TR-808 and 909 have gone on to become cult items drooled over by tech heads the world over. So the question is, what do you do if you don’t have $4000 tucked away in a cookie jar to buy a second hand version of one of the originals? Introducing the brand new Roland TR-8 Drum Machine. No, it’s not analogue, but ‘Shhh!’ … don’t tell anyone and they probably won’t ever know. FRESH AIRA
Roland’s new AIRA range includes four models that include the TR-8, the TB-3 Touch Bassline, which is a modern take on the TB-303, the VT-3 Vocal Performer and the System-1 Plug Out Synthesiser. The products are all decked in black with intergalactic green highlights. Much to the disappointment of some purists, these are digital units but a number of exciting features expand on the originals. I’m told by Roland that its engineers have measured in detail the circuits of the originals, including any anomalies and flaws, and recreated them with its new digital modelling called Analogue Circuit Behaviour (or ACB). This ultimately means Roland can deliver products for a small percentage of the cost of a second hand original, while also being able to include modern conveniences like USB and controls that are focused on being able to make a variety of performance and pattern changes on the fly, such as the new ‘Scatter’ function. The TR-8 is housed in a fairly sturdy black plastic box with a metal face, and is about the size of a large laptop. The knobs have a nice rubberised feel with the right amount of resistance. The back panel features headphones out, left and right Mix outputs, assignable outputs, MIDI in and out, and USB. You can sync it with other instruments from the AIRA range like the TB-3 or sync it with your DAW via USB MIDI. The original units had separate outputs on the rear panel, and the TR-8 cleverly allows you to record individual instruments out of the TR-8 into your DAW via USB audio. CONTROL FREAK
The TR-8 has tweakable controls for every function. Along the base of the unit are 16 step sequencer buttons (in a format similar to the
originals) that can be used for programming beats or performing live. They also change colour to indicate what mode is currently selected. While the colours are pretty, and its cool that they reference the colour scheme of the original 808, the buttons are my least favourite part of the physical side of the unit. They feel clunky and their action is noisy. Units like Maschine, Novation and Push have clearly spent the time and money developing buttons with better feel than their predecessors. The TR-8 buttons are glassy, slippery and generally feel a little outdated. Maybe this was an aesthetic design decision, or a throw back to the original, but in a market where customers value ‘feel’ I think this will let the TR-8 down. I did mention they look really cool though, right? In the middle of the unit are 11 sliders. If you mute an instrument, the green back lighting around the specific slider goes out so you know it’s not in use. This is great. The TR-8 layout makes it simple to bring elements in and out and clearly see what’s going on, a handy enhancement over the original 808. The left hand side of the unit has controls laid out in a similar fashion to the original. There’s the Start/Stop button and above that are rubber selectors for choosing sounds, patterns, scale and mode. The tempo is displayed as a digital BPM readout on the right hand side with tap tempo, swing, and Roland’s new ‘Scatter’ function. While along the top are Reverb, Delay, External In with Sidechain, and the Accent control. DREAM KITS
The TR-8 includes the sounds of the TR-808 and 909 kits with dedicated controls for each sound including tune and decay and the addition of attack and compressor on the kick and snare channels. The snare channel also includes a knob called ‘Snappy’, which sounds like a filter but actually corresponds to the level of the snare wire component of the sound. When using the compressor control on the kick, it doesn’t autoadjust the output of that sound to compensate, which would have been a nice feature. That said, a quick fiddle with the volume of that part and you’re back in business. Even if you’ve never laid your hands on an original you could be making a beat within seconds. There are no detailed menus to go through, simply choose an empty pattern and a drum kit and go for it in either Real Time Recording or Step Mode. But things really start getting interesting when you build your own kit. On the TR-8, you can assign any sounds from the two drums kits into any pattern. This ‘Dream Kit’ feature lets you build up your perfect 808/909 hybrid into a single pattern. And boy, sitting back and hitting Play, the sound is as delicious and thick as I could have hoped. Back in the ’80s, a lot of fast food chains used additives in their milkshakes to make them thicker and tastier. Well, whatever it is, it seems Roland has poured a bucket of the secret liquid into the TR-8. From punchy deep kicks, through
CIRCUIT BEHAVIOUR Analogue instruments are made up of different electric components. And it’s the interaction of these different components that provides a specific sound you can control and adjust. Roland’s ACB technology looks at the specific behaviour of analogue technology and then models it with minute detail. The engineers did this by comparing wave forms between the new units, and the originals, and used that data to fine tune the new TR-8. These adjustments were then checked by ear, and certainly from what I’ve heard, they sound remarkably close. We’re talking Crunchie and Violet Crumble.
to snappy hats and cracking snares, the TR-8 is an absolute beast. There is no question about the sound. The 32-bit/96k signal path is rich, detailed and twerked my sub around so much even Miley Cyrus would have been impressed. SCATTER YOUR EFFECTS
It doesn’t end with this smart digital kit manipulability, Roland has again upped the ante over the originals by allowing effects to be inserted on individual steps in the sequence. Oh yes, things are getting very cool now. Program up a sequence and then insert reverb on one of the steps, or all of them, the same goes with delay. The nice thing is that with the reverb just on one step, each time it re-triggers it sounds like it’s interacting with the remnants of the reverb trail from the previous pattern. It’s very analogue in its feel and reminds me of the kinds of the sounds I get with my old tape delay. You can make a variety of patterns and then trigger them in time to create whole songs and sequences, which makes playing live easy and fun. Keys 12-16 double as note repeat, mute and variation triggers to keep the patterns interesting. But if you really want to mess with them then you can dive into the ‘Scatter’ function. THE MAD SCATTER
On the top right hand side of the instrument is a knob surrounded with a green box that simply says, ‘Scatter’. The knob acts as a selector for 10 different Scatter effects and doubles as the depth of the effect. In essence, one you hit the On button, it gives you simple glitchy effects along the lines of Stutter Edit and Tim Exile’s The Finger, albeit a much simpler version. It does this by rearranging the individual steps within a sequence and also changing playback direction and gate time. With the press of a button and the twist of the knob you can create weird, reversed, unpredictable variations in the pattern. I see this as one of the best features of this type of groove box. To be able to give variety to what otherwise can feel a bit robotic, and being able to apply Scatter to external inputs is actually really cool. In case you really want to go out there, the TR-8 will generate random patterns for you too. Just like the cheat codes on your SEGA or Super NES, the TR-8 has a special button combo that will create rhythms for you. They’re not always exactly musically tasteful, but it’s just another way the TR-8 can inject a bit of something special into a mix. AT 25
Going digital ain’t so bad...
KICKING THE TYRES
At an asking price of $649 the TR-8 is a great sounding drum machine. It’s instantly usable. It looks great and has some modern features and architecture to give it some distance, and difference, from its ancestors. Though if I’m perfectly honest I’m just not sure how much demand there is going to be for a stand alone drum machine with only two drum kits. The originals are cult classics because they have been used on cult classic songs. They are rare and have that magical analogue circuitry that sends users into a frenzy, even if they can’t hear the difference. And I doubt in the mix many people could tell the difference between the TR-8 and the 808. Side by side they do sound almost identical. But there’s just something about the original that gives you that little squirt, that little sizzle that leaves you feeling like you’re interacting with something that’s magical — something that’s really alive. The AIRA series feels a little to me like it doesn’t quite know what it is meant to be yet. Yes, there are clear references to the TB-303 and 909s but the whole design feels a little bit ‘bedroom DJ’. The VT-3 voice transformer from the same series doesn’t lock to a scale pitch and while it makes some cute robot noises it offers limited use in a real studio environment. It’s over priced for a toy, but under spec’d for professional use so it leaves it sitting in a strange no mans land and I’m not quite sure what Roland was thinking. Since the originals were released, Roland is now in a totally different market place where people want a lot for a little. Personally I like that there are only two drum kits on board, but I also come from the analogue generation. These new products look like they are designed for a younger generation who have grown up with a buffet of sounds and effects which are all available for little money. With plug-ins, iPad apps and then other hardware controllers like Maschine, Push and Novation’s Launchpads, I think Roland is really going to have to stand out. And luckily, the sounds do. But the first thing people are going to do when they see one is hit a drum pad and it just doesn’t feel the way I think a lot of people will want it to feel. There’s no pressure or sense you’re hitting a drum.
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Three commercial composers and songwriters used this review item while it was in my care. One composer who stuck his head into my studio literally buckled at the knees when I played him the sounds so I lent it to him for a day. I asked all three of them what they liked best and worst. It was unanimous. The worst feature was the feel of the buttons and their favourite feature was the actual sound and the Scatter function. Having a physical surface to play with is great, but Roland might have a hard time convincing the masses why they should spend their money on the new TR-8 instead of just making do with a $10 iPad Drum Machine app with a multitude of kits. Being able to load external samples would have made the TR-8 not only a throwback device, but a proposition that’s hard to argue with. Though I sense that’s beyond the point of the TR-8. It is a throwback device. A dedicated one that’ll resonate with anyone who has ever dallied with an 808 or 909, analogue or sampled. DRUMMING UP BUSINESS
If you are in the market for an 808 or 909 clone, there is no doubt about it that the TR-8 is the best choice. It sounds incredible, its easy to use and has all the modern features that we’ve come to expect from digital instruments. In a blind audition people literally could not tell the difference so the digital vs analogue argument doesn’t hold a lot of water in this case. In addition to this, it’s a fraction of the cost of the original but includes some incredibly usable extras like step effect inserts and the new Scatter function. So if you were thinking about getting a modern stand alone drum machine to get those classic 808 and 909 sounds, that is well priced, packed with modern features and a sound that will make your speakers melt, then stop reading right now and just go and buy one.
JACQUIRE KING Tom Waits, Modest Mouse, Buddy Guy, Norah Jones, Kings of Leon, Of Monsters and Men, Josh Ritter, Melissa Etheridge, Dawes. After several years of working in his own facility, King currently works out of Studio G at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. The three-time Grammy winner has a hybrid analogue/in-the-box approach, using an Avid ProControl with his Quad Eight analogue console to patch in his extensive outboard collection.
King: “15 years ago I recorded everything to a multi-track analogue tape machine, going into a console for a mix that featured all outboard effects, and printing to a two-track tape machine. I sometimes had a ProTools rig locked up to the multi-track. In the last 10 years I’ve been working with a hybrid set-up, sometimes recording to analogue tape, and sometimes directly to ProTools, and in general using lots of plug-ins and automation in the computer. During the mix I stem things out and sum them in the analogue domain again. I recently recorded an Editors album to analogue tape, but unless there is a very specific discussion with the artist that results in us wanting to record on analogue, I don’t use tape very much anymore. Tape simulation plug-ins have become so good, that this is not really necessary anymore. I now record directly to ProTools most of the time, and I add hardware effects, like plate reverbs or delay like the Cooper Time Cube, during tracking. While mixing, almost all the effects are plug-ins, I love the UA plug-ins. I have mixed some things entirely in-the-box, but I have never been totally happy with that because of my traditional upbringing in making records, so I still send stems out to the Quad Eight, and use some external analogue compression or EQ and sum things on the console.
“The biggest game changer has been that delay compensation works well enough so that computers can be used for mixing, and
PROTOOLS DELAY COMPENSATION, MASSENBURG DESIGNWORKS EQ5, EMPIRICAL LABS DISTRESSOR. are more than just a convenient recording and editing medium. 24-bit has given us higher fidelity, I think the increased bit depth is more important than higher sampling rate, though in the end the most important thing is the quality of the converter. I still use my Apogee PSX100 A/D converters; the analogue components that were put in those things were of very high quality. I also think the Distressor is probably the greatest modern compressor made, and the Massenburg EQ5 is the only EQ plug-in I use. I think in general the amount of gear that we now all have available to us is making a big difference. 15 years ago even the best and biggest studio in the world wouldn’t have had what you can now with a good arsenal of plugins. As for specific new mixing methods, I use parallel compression a lot more than I did in the past, similar to what Michael Brauer does, with different parallel bus compression paths combined. Stems are another big development. You can record many more tracks and make your blends later in the computer, which means that you can delay your decisions. It’s convenient and gives you a lot of flexibility, but the downfall can be that you’re not making decisions as you go. It’s a trade-off.”
15 years ago even the best and biggest studio in the world wouldn’t have had what you can now with a good arsenal of plug-ins
The Rise and Rise of Game Audio The generation raised on video games has come of age. And so has game audio. Leading industry players reflect on how the game has changed. Story: John Broomhall
Video games are big business. Really big. The last few years have seen an exponential increase in sales revenue with Grand Theft Auto V, the poster child, reportedly eclipsing the one billion dollar mark in just three days — a new, staggering record that officially makes games not only the highest-grossing pieces of entertainment (World Of Warcraft has grossed over $10b), but the fastest selling too. The games biz has conquered the hearts and minds of a vast demographic from the youngest Moshi Monsters or Mario fan, to millions upon millions of entertainment-savvy adults, whose hard-earned disposable income and time is now as likely to be directed at the latest Call Of Duty (or Candy Crush) as it is movies or bands. Meanwhile, the video game console is now a must-have media hub in living rooms the world over, and online multi-player gaming between opponents on opposite sides of the planet is the norm. Not bad for an entertainment medium that not so long ago was considered child’s play. AT 30
FEEL THE FORCE
Steve Schnur: “Games — and the music we deliver within them — have evolved from an emerging entertainment medium to a global cultural force. More importantly, the generation raised on video games is now coming of age. Our industry changed their way of seeing, hearing and playing. They in turn are now beginning to shape and define our world. The result is that the digital, social and creative revolution we’d always hoped for is happening as we speak. For game soundtracks, EA’s Madden and FIFA franchises have certainly been game changers in terms of doing what radio and MTV used to do: breaking new music and new artists on an instantaneous worldwide level. When it comes to original scores, the tipping point has been the level of talent drawn to the medium. In fact, I believe that some of the very best original music today is being created exclusively for games. It’s been an extraordinary accomplishment and remains a remarkable opportunity.”
Paul Lipson takes up the theme: “We have reached a level of creative output that certainly rivals the biggest blockbuster experiences — on any screen or stage. Games have actually fostered a resurgence in large ensemble composition and recording — bringing the orchestra back to the forefront of popular culture. We are finding ways to express themes and define interactive worlds with music of all sizes, types, styles, and genres. I’ve worked on some projects that have had four feature films’ worth of music, all recorded with 85+ players — mixed and mastered to perfection. Our ability to create bespoke content to support new fiction and franchises is limited only by our imagination and ingenuity. The bar is in a much higher place than even five years ago.” And for composers like Jason Graves, the creative largesse is truly liberating: “I seriously doubt a film or TV project would allow me multiple days on the recording stage with a full
W here should audio folk focus their energies? Same as they always have — be curious, be passionate, be creative but above all be nice
— Dan Bardino orchestra recording experimental effects without any idea what the end result will sound like (all three Dead Space scores). Or commissioning an original steel and glass instrument for a soundtrack without any idea of what it looks like until the camera crew arrives to film it for a behind-the-scenes television special (Tomb Raider). Those are two of the many creative experiments I’ve enjoyed throughout the years in video games.” The industry used to talk about triple-A quality games — now it’s ‘quad-A’. These are titles whose production values are sky high, driving a steady increase in the use of not only the world’s leading creative talent but also its most prestigious recording and post facilities. Paul Lipson: “We are working across the industry in partnerships that are helping us achieve class-leading results for our releases. On the bespoke content side, we work with musicians throughout the US and the UK to record our scores — and enjoy a relationship
with the AFM (the American Federation of Musicians, the largest union in the USA/ Canada), and facilities like Skywalker Sound, Abbey Road, etc. We commission scores from some of the best composers working today, and encourage innovation and new approaches to original music.” Giles Farley: “At Pinewood and Shepperton Studios we bring to video games the exact same creativity, expertise and passion we bring to major motion picture releases. For instance, recording foley for Fable: The Journey or mixing cut scenes for Rome: Total War, the level of talent involved is world-class and we’re excited about our future game projects.” ROAD TO FREEDOM
With hard disk, memory and streaming limitations largely removed on next-gen consoles, artists can more easily realise their audio visions. Jason Graves: “Now it simply comes down to budget — how many minutes of music and how much time the developer can spend implementing everything. I think from an interactive music standpoint, we’ve kind of ‘arrived’ with the new generation of consoles. As far as final playback within the game is concerned, you can really do anything now.” Nick Laviers concurs: “I think in their own way, games have followed a similar course to the movie industry. In the early days it was more about what technology and practices film companies developed to maintain their competitive edge, then as the years went by and cameras, audio equipment, etc., became standardised and ubiquitous, the pushes forward with technology were smaller and came about more slowly. Here in 2014, video games have become a mature entertainment industry and in game audio, our challenges are now more in the area of content creation. This now drives the technical side, whereas I think in the past we often dreamt up the technology first!” As the power of ideas increasingly trumps the power of technology in game audio we are witnessing a paradigm shift in creativity. Nick Arundel: “Over the last 15 years I have seen the move from games struggling to fit creative ideas within the available technology, to games that really understand what makes an engaging experience, regardless of the technology. “Historically, the technical questions in the way of achieving our aims were the foremost issues facing developers. As technology improved the language used by developers shifted towards more ‘creative’ questions, such as what do we want the player to experience and how do we want them to feel? In some ways the technology has become transparent. “A huge part of this shift is the wide adoption of middleware tools, and for sound design this means Wwise and Fmod. These tools are the video game industry’s ‘ProTools’; the de facto
Steve Schnur (above) and Nick Arundel (below) work on some of the biggest video game titles in the world… and in some darn nice digs.
With many thanks to the following game industry leaders: NICK ARUNDEL — Audio Director, Rocksteady Studios, who oversees music, sound and dialogue for the multi-award-winning Batman video game series. DAN BARDINO — Director, Worldwide Studios Creative Services Group, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd. ANDY EMERY — Managing Director, SIDE, providers of dialogue services to hundreds of games. GILES FARLEY— Managing Director, Digital Content Services, The Pinewood Studios Group. JASON GRAVES — Composer for such iconic titles as the Dead Space series and Tomb Raider. NICK LAVIERS — Audio Director for Harry Potter franchise, Dead Space 3 (EA/Visceral), Assassin’s Creed Revelations (Ubisoft), Red Alert 3 (EA). PAUL LIPSON — Music & Audio Director, Central Media, Microsoft Studios (Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, Galactic Reign). BEN MINTO — Senior Audio Director, EA DICE (creators of Battlefield’s multi-award-winning audio). STEVE SCHNUR — Worldwide Executive Music & Music Marketing and President, Artwerk Music Group for Electronic Arts. BRUCE SWANSON — Audio Director for Naughty Dog’s blockbuster franchise Uncharted. AT 31
standard. There is now a pool of talented sound designers who think within the framework of these tools. These tools have affected every aspect of how we approach sound within games, from how we record, to editing, implementation and mastering. “It’s exciting to see the growing number of sound designers who want to embrace the challenge of video game sound and face the issue of ‘permanence’, a unique problem/opportunity in video game sound. We face the task of creating complete ‘worlds’ of sound, not sound for just a single shot. These worlds can be explored at the player’s leisure without the linear time-line of film. They have a ‘permanence’. We hand a large degree of the movie director’s control to the player, and we must make sure it sounds great, not in one case (the shot), but in every case. The skills needed to face this challenge are not directly transferable from film. With the help of middleware, a ‘tool box’ of techniques has emerged and become the working language of the industry.
“Games have actually fostered a resurgence in large ensemble composition and recording — bringing the orchestra back to the forefront of popular culture.” — Paul Lipson
“We can now finally start grappling with the issues around what makes a great player experience. Books can give a fantastic insight into someone’s psychology, a film can show you great spectacle, but what are video games good at? What stories suit video games? How do we manipulate or guide the player? These problems can now be tackled without first considering daunting technological hurdles.” INDIE EXPLOSION
Quad-A is of course here to stay, but it’s not the whole story. Artistically brilliant titles are being created at a fraction of the Quad-A production price tag by a burgeoning indie sector thriving in a commercial world where barriers to entry just keep falling. Meanwhile the proliferation of smartphones and tablet devices is creating yet more opportunity for innovative and potentially lucrative gaming-to-go.
“The exact same creativity, expertise and passion we bring to major motion picture releases.”
Nick Laviers: “Not everybody will be (or need to be) at the ‘bleeding edge’, just like not every film is released in 3D. There are more timeless things
— Giles Farley
CHANGING THE GAME Dan Bardino: “For me there’ve been four truly great game changers in game audio over the last 15 years. “Firstly, the move away from dedicated memory and hardware in the last console generation (PS3/ XBox360); this, on the face of it, might seem subtle but I don’t think you can overstate the impact of removing the literal and physical divide between the audio folks’ on-box resource and the rest of the development team’s. “It forced reluctant, sometimes dismissive lead programmers and producers to engage with their audio team from the earliest outset. It also forced some more shy and reclusive audio people out of their studios. It meant, from the earliest opporAT 32
tunity, audio folks could show the power of sound and music and how it could enhance any game if it was involved from the start. And I think that’s an opportunity few audio artists in any field would willingly pass up. “Secondly, the rise of middleware has given a standardisation of game audio implementation, the effects of which will be felt for many years to come — whether it be efficiencies of pipelines or the ability for people to hit the ground running when ramping up at the crucial tail-end of a project — meaning the polish and finesse of our titles improves exponentially. “Thirdly, the recent revival in indie development has taken both of the above and put these advanc-
es into small, tight-knit teams which have to rely on every cost-effective advantage they can leverage — and, with high-quality sound being so much more cost-effective than high-quality visuals, the role of the audio professional has been cemented as pivotal to the success of the best indie games like Limbo, Journey and Dear Esther. “Finally — and forgive me, for this is a little selfindulgent — the work that our Audio Standards Working Group has done to standardise loudness for the industry will have positive ramifications for all future generations of game makers and gamers and I genuinely think will be pointed to as a ‘game changer’ when we look back in the next 15 years.”
Video game voice talent: now much more than, “here we go!” 50,000 lines of dialogue isn’t uncommon.
It’s still about, and always will be — what to play, what not to play, and why?
— Bruce Swanson which sell games, like storytelling and game-play design. Perhaps more so in games than films, the visual and sonic quality play second fiddle to the core facets that make games compelling. There’s room for more of a range of production values in games these days to illuminate these facets. Even ignoring ‘old’ games, there’s mobile games, social network games, a massive gamut of different styles of indie PC/Console games and then of course AAA PC/Console games. Right now, my kids are loving a low-res looking platform game called Starbound. While I’m simultaneously being stunned by the incredible artistic achievement in Ryse. Two very different aesthetic experiences but both enjoyable because of the story and game-play.” Ben Minto: “The variety of delivery platforms for today’s games has democratised the market. 15 years ago it was mainly PC, console and handheld. Today the starting point, in terms of cost, are the free2play, micro-transaction titles, and at the top end, the $60 titles which cost
double that when you factor in downloadable content/membership programs. Today, in theory, anyone can make a game. An indie title made by a handful of people can compete on the same stage as a huge AAA title involving hundreds of people, across multiple teams and studios. Big isn’t always the ‘best’, especially with game audio, which has seen a range of awesome smaller titles take various crowns for best audio — Journey, Limbo, Runner 2, Bastion, Papa Sangre II, Device 6, etc.” THE NEXT LEVEL
Right now, all the signs are that game music, sound and dialogue is set to enjoy a period of creative excellence at all budget levels — just as with movies. Nick Laviers: I was chatting to a movie sound designer friend of mine recently who was telling me about the big-budget blockbuster he’s working on; he also mentioned he was working on a smaller indie project just to be more playful and inventive, not expecting to make as much money from it. The smaller project lets him develop his craft in new directions which will eventually benefit the bigger projects. That feels kind of healthy to me. We have the same opportunities in games now and I’m hoping my future contains a diversity of different sized projects!” Meanwhile, Steve Schnur is certainly optimistic about game music: “The traditional record business may be dead, yet the music industry is stronger than ever. Within the next 10 years, our ability to create, expose and discover new music of every genre will be beyond anything the industry or the consumer has known before.” Perhaps the most exciting facet of all is the lack of technical limits hampering creativity. Those old party poopers — time and budget — will realistically always be lurking in the wings,
Andy Emery: “At Side we specialise in character performances for video games and we’ve seen a huge change over the last 15 years in both the volume of dialogue being recorded and the approach taken. “In terms of size of project, 15 years ago a game with ~5000 lines of dialogue would have been considered a big voice production project. Today it’s not uncommon for a large Role-Playing Game (RPG) or Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) title to have in the region of 40-50,000 lines of dialogue. In fact, Star Wars: The Old Republic has a line count tipping into 200,000 lines! “But size isn’t everything, and of far more importance has been the increase in the number and the quality of actors for a typical project. Historically, games were cast using a relatively small number of voice talents to cover a large number of characters. This was fine if a ‘cartoon’-style of performance was appropriate but sounded very odd if it was supposed to be a gritty, military shooter. And as character animation became more ‘realistic’ over the years, this disparity became more apparent. “With bigger development budgets and more focus on performances that are appropriate for the game environment, developers have been willing to invest in proper casting, professional writers, actors and directors, and taking the time during sessions to achieve high quality results. “There have also been big changes in what is captured during a recording session. Many sessions now involve facial capture at the same time as studio voice recording sessions. Our audio team are often on a sound stage recording final quality dialogue during performance capture shoots (capturing the body, face and vocal performance simultaneously during motion capture). “One of the key factors driving all these advances has been the ever increasing importance placed on creating engaging characters in games. What was once simply an afterthought, has actually become a bedrock for many modern AAA titles.” AT 33
Are your wireless mics ready for the Digital Dividend ? Paul Lipson and Leslie Ann Jones at Skywalker Sound
but at least those precious implementation tools and middleware systems now allow sound designers and composers to take more ownership of the integration of their work into the game, a big leap towards fully realising their creative ambitions.
OURS ARE ! By the end of 2014, all analogue TV transmitters will be turned off and all digital TV transmitters will have changed frequency. The band between 694 MHz and 820 MHz will be cleared of all users so it can be used for mobile data services. Check your wireless microphone systems now ! If they operate between 694 MHz and 820 MHz you need to start planning to operate between 520 MHz and 694 MHz before the end of 2014.
Make certain your systems are ready! visit
digitaldividend.com.au for more information
That said, we’re not altogether out of the technical woods, so where should audio types focus their energies? Bruce Swanson: “We need creative solutions to problems unique to game audio, like how to achieve a controlled and focused mix when the camera can be anywhere and the composition of sound emitting objects is variable. But ultimately, as the roles of mediums like games and film blur and merge, I suppose the most important place to focus your energies is on understanding and evolving the language of audio as it pertains to storytelling — it’s still about, and always will be — what to play, what not to play, and why?”
Ben Minto: “Today I wouldn’t even get to the interview stage, with the qualifications and background I had when I started out! Today’s new hires will most likely have been blogging about game audio for years, be very active and vocal across a range of industry forums, already have a string of mods, indie titles and iOS apps under their belt, and there’s a strong possibility they will have attended a game audio specific course. “15 years ago my tools were text and XML editors — today, the tools I have access to are in-depth, immensely powerful and are seamlessly integrated with other development disciplines. As systems become more involved, the development of specialists for each system becomes a necessity. On large titles, we have moved away from the ‘audio person’, and built a range of specialisations — including Audio Director, VO Producer, Sound Designer, Technical Sound Designer, Audio Analyst, Audio Programmer, etc. Within these categories, we have content specialists where there’s a large number of one type of object — i.e. cars in racing games, weapons in FPS titles. As the systems that drive these objects become more and more complicated, the need for a specialist who sees this key area of a title from cradle to grave is obvious — and it’s very reasonable to expect that over the period of a two-year development cycle this will form the majority of their workload. Being able to do everything or at least manage everything is still desirable and beneficial, but being able to deep dive on a key area gives us the ability to redefine the bench mark and push the genre forward.”
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Peter D’Antonio is the founder of RPG Acoustics, and has been instrumental in developing a diffusion coefficient standard that should help buying the right acoustic treatment easier. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite tipped over into wide-scale adoption like his Reflection Free Zone control room design has. AudioTechnology quizzed D’Antonio on the latest acoustic design developments and the stunning Ambechoic design he and George Massenburg implemented at Blackbird studios. Interview: Mark Davie
Mark Davie: How did the diffusion coefficient come about, and what effect will the formalisation of that standard have on the future of acoustics?
The successful examples began almost instantaneously, because what has become known as the RFZ (Reflection Free Zone)/RPG (Reflection Phase Grating) control room design was adopted enthusiastically by the studio design community and remains the de facto standard to this day. The first application was by Bob Todrank at the Oak Ridge Boys Acorn Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee, followed by hundreds of major facilities worldwide. So these many examples demonstrated the efficacy of the design and the use of diffusion. The last part involved documentation. In the early 1980s there was no standardised method to measure the performance of scattering surfaces, only the random and normal incidence absorption coefficient. I felt we needed to develop
Now what does this mean? Standards are important because they level the playing field. They help protect the consumer and the specifying acoustician. Everyone claiming to offer a particular product must provide proof-ofperformance data to support their claims. This is true in the pro audio market for electronic gear like speakers, microphones, and absorptive materials. The diffusion coefficient standard hopefully will encourage manufacturers to publish diffusion coefficients as well for scattering materials. Most suppliers of diffusors are simply copying our original QRD designs. This is a shame, because the unsuspecting pro audio client
Stereo began to slowly emerge and the non-symmetrical design of control rooms, poor monitoring conditions and speaker quality was becoming evident.
Stereo was where 5.1 multi-channel playback is today. Control room design became very important and designers like Tom Hidley, Phil Ramone and John Storyk emerged with various approaches and bass trapping to create rooms capable of auditioning multi-channel playback. Speaker technology also improved.
Philip Newell and Tom Hidley introduced the non-environment room with broad bandwidth bass trapping and flush mounted monitors. Dick Heyser introduced Time Delay Spectrometry, which led Don and Carolyn Davis to introduce the LEDE (Live End/Dead End) control room, which had an absorptive front and live rear.
Tom Hidley introduced 10Hz Infrasonic control room and surround-sound 5.1 monitoring. Neil Muncy designed LEDE rooms with all cone loudspeakers. George Massenburg employed a reflection rich zone control room, using front ceiling mounted quadratic diffusors and RPG introduced the RFZ/RPG control rooms offering a spatio-temporal reflection free zone and a diffusive passive surroundsound rear wall using number theoretic reflection phase grating diffusors.
As RPG evolved, I established a relationship with a brilliant acoustician named Trevor Cox, who is now Professor of Acoustics at Salford University. Trevor collaborated with RPG for several years during which we developed software for room dimension, speaker placement and shape optimisation among other things. We were invited to collate all of our research along with all that was currently known about the theory, design and application of acoustical absorbers and diffusors into a reference text book. This led to Acoustic Absorbers and Diffusers, Theory, Design and Application. We’re currently working on the third edition, with additional content. I have also provided several chapters in the Master Handbook of Acoustics by F. Alton Everest.
a standard so that an industry could be developed providing diffusive materials to the music industry and the general architectural acoustics industry. This began with full scale measurements using a Time, Energy & Frequency (TEF) analyser and a boundary measurement technique that I developed in which the diffusor was placed at the centre of a 5m-semicircle of microphones and a 10m-hemisphere containing a loudspeaker which emitted a stimulus signal. The signal was scattered by the diffusor and recorded by the microphones on the 5m-semicircle. When we ran out of large arena-sized venues to carry out full scale diffusion measurements, we developed a 1:5 scale measurement goniometer utilising 37 fixed microphones on a 1m-semicircle with the diffusor at the centre. The speaker semicircle was two metres from the sample. Along with this we developed an automated measurement process using a computerised protocol in which the computer directed the TEF to emit a Maximum Length Sequence (MLS) signal and a microphone switcher selected the respective microphone to record the impulse response. A data reduction procedure was developed to produce a diffusion coefficient. This became the topic of interest for the AES-4id-2003 publication, for a standards committee that I chaired. Following this, RPG co-funded an Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) program at Salford University to further refine the diffusion coefficient. More recently, we utilise 32 microphones and preamps to record the scattered sound on a workstation and deconvolve with the stimulus to obtain the impulse responses. This is extremely fast and takes no longer than an absorption coefficient measurement. In 2012 the diffusion coefficient was enshrined as ISO 17497-2, almost 25 years after we began our initial research!
Monophonic playback in small control booths with no low frequency absorption. Most attention was given to large 15-30,000 square foot tracking rooms to accommodate large big band and symphonic orchestras.
The RFZ/RPG design proliferated and evolved along with other approaches, but no really new design emerged.
At the 84th AES in NY — following my presentation at a session in which Manfred Schroeder [the father of quadratic residue sequences – Ed] was, incidentally, the invited speaker — I met Don and Carolyn Davis of SynAudCon. They graciously invited me to a studio design meeting in Dallas, Texas, at which I presented my research to a group of emerging studio designers. Following that meeting, Don and Carolyn invited me to be a regular presenter at almost all of their meetings for several years. This provided me with an opportunity to educate a very large number of designers in the studio industry and incidentally, led to many years of lasting friendships.
The miniaturised goniometer mid-test
Peter D’Antonio: When I founded RPG 30 years ago and introduced new diffusive technology, it was clear to me that we would have to provide education, successful examples and documentation of the application of this technology. The education began with presentations at the Audio Engineering Society in 1983 followed by over a decade presenting two or three times a year around the world. In addition, I have contributed over a hundred publications in peer review journals, magazines and books.
DECADES IN DESIGN Control room design has basically evolved to address the changes in loudspeaker reproduction technology and the evolution from mono to surround. D’Antonio gives a potted history from the ’40s to today.
Floyd Toole presented research indicating that early reflections in small rooms may be beneficial to perception, an idea that was utilised by Massenburg and myself to create the Ambechoic control room design at Blackbird Studio C. New damped metal plate resonators, capable of providing absorption down to 40Hz in a thickness of four inches and the use of multiple inphase subwoofers had a profound effect in controlling room modes. I haven’t seen much innovation in control room design, however, refinements in speaker technology, evolution beyond 5.1 to 7.x and improved acoustic materials have generally improved the quality of reproduced sound and envelopment. What was accomplished passively with the RFZ/ RPG design, which was developed for stereo playback, is now being provided actively, however diffusion is even more necessary to uniformly scatter all of the direct sound coming from the speakers. AT 39
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who relies on magazine advertisements may not be aware that the original QRD is essentially a dinosaur in the annals of diffusor development. Figure 1 shows this 30-year evolution along with the diffusion coefficient improvement. So the effect of formalising a diffusion coefficient provides a metric that allows acousticians and end users to characterise and choose among the various products on the market and filter out the noise. So far, RPG products are the only documented and widely adopted products in production to quote the diffusion coefficient standard. For the standard to have an impact, acousticians and end users must demand diffusor manufacturers provide the data. In this way, specifiers and end users will be protected. If the data are not demanded, internet and trade magazine hyperbole will be the governing metric as it currently is in the pro audio market. MD: What new acoustic problems have you identified in the last 15 years that have required a new solution? And what do they stem from: shifting markets, people compromising in different ways, building materials? AT 40
PD’A: RPG’s initial market was recording studios and we hopefully had an impact on the evolution of studio design. One of the main reasons was that control room design was sorely in need of a scientific approach, based on acoustic and psychoacoustic research. We identified all of the potential acoustical problems and developed solutions. The physics of creating a neutral listening environment remain unchanged. At low frequencies, below say 200Hz, we’re dealing with wave acoustics and one has to address room modes and the speaker boundary interference. We developed programs, which are no longer available commercially, to optimise room dimensions and accurately locate loudspeakers to simultaneously minimise modal and speaker boundary issues. Our Room Optimizer also demonstrated the benefit of using multiple in-phase subwoofers Some of the Room Sizer information is still available at http://www.acoustics.salford. ac.uk/acoustics_info/room_sizing/
to further address modal problems, which Todd Welti and Floyd Toole’s research successfully extended to include multiple listening positions. Above 200Hz, we are dealing with geometrical acoustics and one has to address comb filtering and poor diffusion. The spatio-temporal RFZ addressed comb filtering and the RPG diffusors provided passive surround sound diffusion. The only thing that is new is implementing these issues to include multi-channel surround playback. As the professional studio market migrated into project studios, RPG decided to focus its research and product development on general architectural acoustics and also added a noise and vibration line of products. As with the recording studio market when we entered it, the architectural acoustic market was in need of innovation, being heavily ensconced in acoustical ceiling tile and fabric wrapped panels. We are all familiar with the wide array of acoustically dysfunctional spaces like restaurants, airports, train stations, classrooms, etc., etc. In fact, most architectural spaces, as
The Hit Factory in New York
WHAT THIS MEANS TO THE HOME STUDIO
it turned out, could benefit from new designs and products that would fill a big commercial acoustic void. Because of our strong relationship with acousticians, based on our numerous publications, presentations and research laboratory, we were able to make important contributions and introduce a wide array of new products. With respect to diffusion, we evolved the original QRD to Modulated Optimised Diffusor (MOD) and introduced optimised curvilinear diffusive shapes, using our proprietary Shape Optimiser software. These new surfaces were enthusiastically adopted by the architectural community and provided entry into museums, auditoria, performing arts facilities and schools, as well as recording studios. We also developed the RPG Absorbor System, consisting of a wide range of new absorptive tools, including microperforated wood, Topperfo Micro, transparent/translucent microperforated and microslit foils and panels, recycled stone and glass, acoustical CMU and evolved the traditional fabric wrapped panel to provide broad bandwidth absorption, in the form of the multi-layer Broadsorber, dedicated low frequency absorption, Modesorber, and a new line of transparent acoustical fabrics called SoundGem. MD: Being able to measure, interpret and specify is still the fundamental skill of the acoustician that home studio engineers are unable to emulate. Do you think there will be a game changer that will alter that dynamic in the future? PD’A: I think there will always be a need for a professional in any field. While there are many self-diagnostic medical sites, like WebMD, which help educate people to diagnose symptoms and possible remedies, a visit to your doctor is still a good idea. While the RPG Diffusor System and all of the pro audio acoustical products
that followed our lead over the past 30 years provide a definite improvement to the home studio, there are many issues that still can benefit from a professional studio designer. Designing a home studio is more involved than hanging some foam/fabric wrapped fibreglass absorbers and undocumented diffusors on the wall. Foam or fabric wrapped absorbers should be 4-inches thick or greater. The problem with thin absorbers is that they act like turning the treble control of the room down. The room loses all of its ambiance and brilliance and low frequency problems can be accentuated. All acoustical treatment should be broad bandwidth like an all-pass filter rather than a low-pass filter. Foam corners are also questionable, since the particle velocity is zero in corners. Room dimensions, speaker positioning and tuning, subwoofer placement and number, diaphragmatic nature of wall and ceiling boundary materials, noise and vibration control (isolation and HVAC), lighting, acoustical placement, console reflections, room modes/speaker boundary interference, frequency response, transferability, etc. all need to be acoustically measured and sonically evaluated. MD: How did you come up with the Ambechoic design, and why is it more or less desirable than other designs? PD’A: The Ambechoic design concept essentially provides a uniform acoustical environment in rooms which utilise active surround sound, as opposed to the RFZ/RPG design which was a solution to address stereo playback, utilising passive surround diffusion. The idea came to fruition when I received a call from George Massenburg who was working at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. George had previously experimented with a reflection rich design approach using number theoretic diffusors at the Complex in West Los Angeles, CA years ago and
D’Antonio: There exists an interesting phenomenon in DIY designs. When a consumer invests hard earned money in a product touted on an internet site or trade magazine, he then has to make a decision whether the addition made a sonic difference or a sonic improvement. Having spent the money, sometimes a difference passes for an improvement. We had a saying when we were helping shape studio design many years ago, ‘If you can’t take the room out of the mix, you can’t take the mix out of the room.’ In my view transferability is the key component in project studio design; because the goal is to have someone else audition what you have created in your room. If you room is bass heavy, the mix will be bass light and vice versa. While Time Delay Spectrometry (TDS) and the TEF analyser played an enormous role in my acoustic development, there were also many incorrect measurements and interpretations made using this powerful tool. Today, the number of computer acoustic analysis tools is almost endless and available at many price points. However, it has often been proven that the importance of the user’s experience far exceeds the difference between measurement platforms. So this is why I think a professional studio designer will always be an asset. They have the acoustic measurement tools, the experience of room designs in many spaces and the experience of listening in many rooms. Many also offer affordable services at many price levels. I got into the acoustics industry because I was a musician building a recording studio. Being a scientist I researched the literature and essentially found no published research on the subject. So I experimented with an idea I came across in an audio magazine called LEDE by Don and Carolyn Davis and through research developed the RFZ/RPG design, which was enthusiastically adopted by the studio design community. That’s the good news. The bad news was, I essentially stopped making music and became an acoustician. Fortunately, having made my contribution to architectural acoustics I am now making music again. So I would encourage all musicians to do what you do best and let the professionals design your room. While sound quality and good acoustics are important, in the end it’s the music that matters!
wanted to create a massively diffusive, proofof-concept, neutral control room environment with improved imaging of virtual sources in surround monitoring, a much broader ‘sweet spot’ and supportive, linear ambiance that had near-equal decay rates across as much of the frequency spectrum as possible. The experiment involved designing a single period, 3-foot deep amplitude modulated, 2D-optimised primitive root wall diffusor with 138,646 individual block heights, which extended around the entire perimeter of the room. In addition, we developed a 7-foot
deep primitive root Diffractal with 27,336 block AT 41
Reflection Free Zone
Reflection Rich Zone
Ambient Anechoic-Ambechoic 30 dB
The Energy Time Curves (ETC) at the mix position of various control room designs with direct sound (red) and diffuse reflections (blue). The Ambechoic design at Blackbird Studio C (right) brings forward the diffuse reflections with a 0.3s delay time to the noise floor.
heights extending down to 50Hz on the ceiling. The corners of the room were treated with metal resonator low frequency absorbers which absorbed efficiently down to 40Hz in a thickness of four inches. I can vividly remember returning from dinner on the day we carried out acoustical measurements to audition the latest re-mastered Dark Side of the Moon and were completely astonished at the incredible enveloping sound stage. The concept was proven! In the original RFZ/RPG design there was a clear demarcation between the anechoic front and diffusive rear of the room. With today’s multi-channel surround loudspeaker designs, having a uniform acoustical environment surrounding the listener seems and sounds more natural. Engineers and end users have become accustomed to an absorptive environment surrounding the loudspeakers and so it will take some exposure to a uniform environment for people to evaluate. MD: We’ve seen acoustic room design principles like Live End Dead End and Reflection Free Zones be adopted in the mainstream. What would it take for Ambechoic designs to be widely adopted? PD’A: Not too much really. We developed the RFZ/RPG design for stereo playback. The rear wall diffusors provided essentially passive surround sound, though we didn’t call it that at the time. Today, we are privileged to enjoy active
surround sound. While many prominent studios, like Gateway Mastering in Portland, have evolved the RFZ/RPG design to address surround, it occurred to me that we could also evolve the design of multi-channel rooms. One of the tenets of the RFZ is to remove early reflections so that they don’t cause comb filtering and corrupt the spatial and spectral character of the playback. My background in research has taught me to always look at the boundary conditions when searching for a solution. For a control room design, we can look at the extremes of an anechoic chamber and a reverberation chamber. If you have had the opportunity to audition music in either, you know neither will do. Therefore, in the RFZ approach we chose an anechoic area surrounding the mix position and diffuse (reverberant) sound arriving from the rear wall mounted RPG diffusors. Another approach could have been to select a reflection rich zone surrounding the mix position, with many early reflections combining with the direct sound. Much psychoacoustic research has been done to support the idea that when you have a large number of early reflections the comb filtering may not be a problem. Or one can go a step further and utilise low-level diffuse reflections, down roughly 20-30dB, on all surfaces of the room providing an enveloping uniform acoustical environment, thus creating an Ambient Anechoic or Ambechoic environment,
as was shown to be successful at Blackbird Studio C. This design is quite straight forward. Utilise broad-bandwidth, two-dimensional diffusors on the mid-third area of all walls and ceiling between the speakers and mixing/producer area and low frequency metal resonators, reaching down to roughly 40Hz, in the four corners. It also helps to use multiple in-phase subs in corners or wall mid-points. Therefore, the idea of a balanced design becomes a possibility, in which we don’t have the dichotomy of a live end and a dead end; we have uniform surround sound. Now the RFZ/RPG approach and modified RFZ/RPG for surround sound has been popular and successful for many years, so it will take a while for engineers and end users to audition Ambechoic-designed rooms. While we have introduced the scientific approach to control room design, music preference is still subjective. I assume there will be those that like the RFZ approach and others that prefer the Ambechoic approach, so time will tell. To properly implement the Ambechoic design, the diffusors should be broad brand, at least four inches deep or more and preferably 2D designs, which scatter omnidirectionally. The idea is that we need many low level diffuse reflections and 2D surfaces provide roughly twice the attenuation of a 1D diffusor in a given direction. The corner bass absorption should extend to 40Hz using metal plate resonators. Many of the so-called bass traps on the market are merely thick fibreglass spaced from the boundary to improve low end performance. But people should realise that the absorption mechanism for porous absorption by foam, fibreglass and other porous materials is particle velocity. This means that absorption efficiency is maximised when the porous material is located where the particle velocity for a particular frequency is a maximum, at a quarter wavelength — the particle velocity at a boundary surface and in a corner is zero! Therefore, placing porous materials on a boundary and in a corner is not a very efficient idea. Resonators are maximally efficient when the pressure is a maximum. Therefore, utilising plate resonators or membrane absorbers in a corner is much more efficient than porous materials.
MD: How do you define what you’re trying to achieve — either in measurements or descriptive terminology — when you’re altering the acoustics of a space? Has that changed over the last 15 years? PD’A: When I entered the acoustics industry, Dick Heyser’s Time Delay Spectrometry and Energy Time Curves (ETC) were just being introduced to measure room acoustics. After being exposed to this powerful approach, I embraced it enthusiastically and used it to develop control room designs, the diffusion coefficient and innovative diffusive products. Today, there is a plethora of computer-based room acoustic tools utilising swept sine waves, MLS, etc. I currently use the EASERA platform,
which offers a complete array of stimuli and processing techniques. So I would have to say room acoustic measurements have definitely gotten a lot easier to carry out and process. With respect to design metrics, they vary in the different spaces acousticians have to deal with. I typically divide spaces into speech rooms, music performance, music audition and multi-purpose spaces. In speech only spaces, like classrooms, lecture halls, meeting/conference rooms or any space in which information is transferred, the goal is a high signal to noise ratio (SNR), in which
We had a saying when we were helping shape studio design many years ago, ‘If you can’t take the room out of the mix, you can’t take the mix out of the room
the signal is the direct sound and the noise is everything else, including external intrusion, HVAC noise, occupant noise and reverberation. The solution is to increase the early reflections to temporally fuse with the direct sound increasing the signal and reducing the noise. This can be measured by determining the ratio of early-tolate energy in the room impulse response or various speech indices, like Speech Transmission Index based on the modulation transfer function, Rapid STI, %ALcons, etc., which are easily measured.
REFLECTING ON RFZ D’Antonio: A spatio-temporal Reflection Free Zone is created by splaying massive walls and ceilings, treated with broad bandwidth absorption, surrounding the listening position. It was spatial because the first reflections were reflected to the rear wall diffusors, and temporal because it persisted until the diffuse reflection from the rear wall arrived at the listening position.
Also musicians need support to determine tone, intonation and loudness. Then you have control rooms or neutral listening environments, where the goal is to audition recorded information and be able to perceive spatial and spectral information to balance and signal-process multi-channel information into a final product. While reverberation time is often mentioned in describing these rooms, typically the sound field is reduced below the noise floor if you are measuring 60dB of attenuation. And so it is more correct to consider the decay time of several hundred milliseconds. However, in these small rooms this is rarely an issue. The primary metric in these rooms is the steady state frequency response. It should be flat! No modal emphasis or speaker-boundary interference. The room should be symmetrical to audition the soundstage. Envelopment or immersion is also important and can be determined from Directivity diagrams (‘hedgehog plots’) which illustrate the spatial distribution of distinct specular and smooth diffuse sound incidence. This can be measured with oriented cardioid microphones or newer spherical arrays. If the room is not neutral, engineers wind up listening to their mixes in their cars, on small speakers, large speakers, boom boxes, mp3s, ear buds, etc. You must be able to trust your room, so you can take your mix out of your room.
In performance spaces, the acoustics industry has determined a long list of objective measures which correlate with subjective preference in the audience. These include metrics like reverberation time and early decay time, clarity (C80), which is the ratio of early-to-late energy, envelopment which is based on the late Inter Aural Cross Correlation (IACC), spaciousness or early IACC, Loudness, Gmid (room gain based on sound levels at mid frequencies) and a host of others. All are easily measured from the room impulse response. Typically many locations have to be evaluated, but multimicrophone techniques have reduced the time involved. For a performing musician, whether on stage or in a rehearsal room, the acoustics must provide ensemble reflections so they can hear one another and play in synchronicity.
JOE CHICCARELLI The White Stripes, The Strokes, U2, Boy & Bear, Jason Mraz, My Morning Jacket, Counting Crows, Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, Beck, Etta James, Jamie Cullum, Tori Amos, Frank Zappa, Alanis Morissette Chiccarelli is a 10-time Grammy-winning engineer, mixer, and producer based in Los Angeles. A long-time friend of AudioTechnology, Chiccarelli’s work has featured on the cover of AudioTechnology three times.
Chiccarelli: “I still mix in similar ways as I did in 1998: on high-quality analogue consoles by API, Neve, or Sunset Sound’s custom API-De Mideo console. The main difference is that back then 99% of my work was on analogue, whereas now it’s only 2%. This past year I did projects for Spoon and Divine Fits on analogue, but everything else was ProTools-based, though I still mix through a desk and down to 1-inch analogue tape when the budget allows. I only mix totally in-the-box when the budget is so low that it’s all the client can afford. Obviously, today many projects have very big track counts, making it difficult to do everything on the console. You can also do more sophisticated things inside of the box than in the analogue domain. API and Neve desks and outboard gear offer broader brush strokes in terms of colours, whereas you can go into infinite detail in workstations. There are some really good plug-in reverbs that allow you to do things you can’t do with analogue reverbs, but at the same time there’s still no replacement for a real EMT 140 or AMS reverb. I’m aware of all those things, and make choices based on what I need and what the client can afford. GAME CHANGERS
PROTOOLS IMPROVEMENTS, UAD SATELLITE, SHADOW HILLS COMPRESSOR, CHANDLER CURVE BENDER, KUSH AUDIO CLARIPHONIC EQ “ProTools has gradually come of age and is still getting better. It means that analogue versus digital is no longer a worthwhile conversation. It’s just a choice. It’s like, why do you pick up a Stratocaster instead of a Les Paul? One isn’t better than the other, they are just different colours. It’s important to stress that the switch from ProTools being used purely as a tape recorder
to it becoming a creative mix environment also has a lot to do with the needs of the music. Pop music has become more complex, and contains more layers and loops and more complex rhythm sections, all things that can’t easily be created in an analogue environment. In this situation the DAW becomes crucial. At the same time, if we didn’t have this kind of technology, music wouldn’t have developed in this direction. “Another important piece of gear for me is my UAD Satellite Quad, because the quality of the plug-ins is the best. I use the vintage emulations as well as the more unique plug-ins in all of my mixes. Plus I can’t live without my Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, Chandler Curve Bender and Kush Audio Clariphonic Equaliser on my stereo bus. “As for mixing techniques that I didn’t use 15 years ago, I certainly use parallel compression a lot more. I’ve been aware of parallel compression since my mentor Shelly Yakus showed me how to use it in the late 1980s, but over the last decade or so the loudness wars and the need for music to be more aggressive and forward sounding has pushed mixing engineers to come up with ways to bring every sound to the forefront. Parallel compression, done tastefully, can be a way to obtain a louder sounding mix without compromising the original dynamics too much. So whereas I used parallel compression perhaps only on the lead vocal and drums in the past, I now have several buses set aside for parallel compression on guitars, background vocals, drums, and so on. I also do a lot more pre-mixing in the box, with automated EQ and treating guitars, keys, background vocals and so on with effects and then sending these out to stereo feeds on the console. In this way the console is more and more becoming a very expensive summing device.”
I now have several buses set aside for parallel compression on guitars, background vocals, drums
LAST WORD with Simmo
This is the 100th issue of AudioTechnology, and it comes to you 16 years after the first issue. Thanks for waiting… The first issue of AT hit the streets in February 1998. It was a different world back then: phones were dumb, native processing was for kids, 24-bits was the Next Big Thing and 911 was a sports car.
Greg Simmons is Founding Editor and co-creator of AudioTechnology magazine. When he’s not dodging nasty emails from equipment manufacturers you’ll find him somewhere in Asia chasing ethnic music. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
Three and a half years later Apple introduced the iPod and iTunes. The tag-team combo of hardware and software legitimised the internet as a medium for distributing music, at a time when the record companies were hell-bent on shutting it down. Now, with more high-resolution releases appearing on line every week, the disc-based mediums (CD, DVD, BD) are exuding that all-too-familiar smell of death. And so they should. It’s 2014. Atoms simply cannot compete with bits when it comes to distributing stuff from the digital domain. The iPod led to the iPhone and the iPad. If I told you in 1998 that you could connect a high quality audio interface with four preamps and Lightpipe inputs to something the size of a Palm Pilot and record multiple tracks of 24-bit/96k audio simultaneously, you would have told me to keep on dreaming. Connect an Apogee Quartet to an iPad running the Auria app and that’s exactly what you can do now, for around $2k. You can mix up to 48 tracks on that same system, with 64-bit precision, and bounce it directly online to your favourite mastering engineer. But you probably already knew that… it is 2014. The last 16 years has seen a massive democratisation of audio technology. The demand for ever-cheaper equipment has broadened the quality range significantly. The cheapest stuff is still rubbish, but it’s cheaper rubbish than it was 16 years ago. The push to bring prices down benefits the high-end stuff as well — it’s still expensive, but it’s a cheaper expensive than it was 16 years ago. For example, when AudioTechnology magazine was still learning to walk I purchased a Prism Sound AD124. This was a two-channel, 24-bit AD converter with sampling rates up to 48k, two analogue line inputs and numerous digital outputs in a deep and weighty 1RU enclosure with an RRP of $10k. 16 years later I find myself playing with Prism Sound’s Orpheus interface combined with their Maselec four-channel microphone preamplifier. The combination offers eight channels of Prism Sound AD conversion along with four very good preamps in the Orpheus, four excellent preamps in the Maselec, eight DA converters, two headphone amplifiers, sampling rates up to 192k and the ability to interface to a computer — all for less than the cost of that two-channel AD124 all those years ago. Truly remarkable! While interfaces and similar hardware have benefitted, I can’t say the same for studio monitors. The market wanted cheaper and smaller monitors, and that’s what it got. Studio monitor
design sees little benefit from the large scale integration of electronics, while the corners that need to be cut to ensure low cost manufacturing and smaller enclosures compromise the sonic performance. In recent times I’ve been exposed to some of the most outright deceitful studio monitors in history. [I’ve also been exposed to some remarkably good monitors — Event’s Opals and Grover Notting’s range come to mind — but they are completely outnumbered in a market flooded with rubbish.] Over the 16-year time scale I’m sure we’d see a direct correlation between the proliferation of bad monitors and the abundance of mastering engineers: more bad monitors = more bad mixes = more demand for mastering engineers. The situation is different for microphones. Hands-free manufacturing offers some real cost-savings here, and I’m regularly surprised at the quality on offer for the price. But it’s not all good: when two out of every three audio manufacturers have their own ‘me too’ range of low-cost microphones, you know it’s going to be junk that banks on package deals and brand loyalty to survive. Cynicism aside, one thing is for certain: nowadays you can have all the tools you need, even if you’re happy to shop at Bunnings. However, there’s more to this than tools… The last 16 years has seen a bombardment of advertising promising that ‘with [this tool] you can make the professional recordings you’ve always dreamed of.’ There’s one important thing missing from that pitch: it completely ignores the techniques — which, of course, the manufacturers cannot package and sell. It’s a very effective form of brainwashing, and has produced entire generations of recording musicians who believe it is all about the tools, and who keep buying more tools in the hope they’ll achieve their dreams. Manufacturers are in the business of selling tools, of course, and the ‘tool worship’ mentality they’ve fostered works to their favour. In fact, it is in the manufacturer’s interest to downplay the techniques because they are the negative obstacles between the tools they’re selling and the dreams they sell them with. Here’s the unavoidable maths: Right Tools + Right Techniques = Dreams Achieved You can have all the tools in the world, but without the techniques they’re useless. As someone wiser than me once quipped, “Owning a hammer does not make you a carpenter.” So where do you get the techniques? One of the best places to learn techniques is in magazines. For 16 years now, in 100 printed issues, AudioTechnology has been evaluating the tools and revealing the techniques through interviews, tutorials, columns and how-to articles. Doing what the manufacturers cannot: packaging the techniques and providing the missing part of the equation to achieve your dreams. Keep it up, AudioTechnology!