July | August 2019
FLAWLESS VICTORY AMI discovers how the Mortal Kombat 11 audio team crafted the most cinematic video game soundtrack ever
Audio Precision’s testing and measurement tools
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PRODUCER PROFILE Michael Beinhorn on working with some of the best
Neumann, Warm Audio, RØDE and more…
DESIGNED & ENGINEERED IN GERMANY LD SystemsÂ® is a registered brand of the Adam Hall Group.
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10 Jessie Anne Spence ‘Jane the Virgin’ ADR Supervisor on striving for gender equality in audio post
15 Producer Profile Daniel Dylan Wray chats to Michael Beinhorn about working with some of the industry’s most notorious acts
18 Game Audio We find out how the Mortal Kombat 11 sound design teams wiped the slate clean for a completely fresh audio experience 22 Interview PMC USA’s Maurice Patist opens up about the company’s work with Dolby Atmos for Music
24 Test and Measurement Audio Precision discusses its approach to audio measurement, analysis and testing equipment
26 Neumann NDH 20 30 Rodecaster Pro and RØDE PodMic
July | August 2019
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AMI JULY | AUGUST 2019
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Cover photo credit: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment Printed by Buxton Press Ltd ISSN: 2057-5165 Copyright 2019
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here’s no ignoring the world of deep economic disruption and digital innovation that we currently live in. On the day AMI went to press with this July | August issue, the House of Lords Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies launched its call for evidence to seek the public’s views on both the benefits and negative impact of digital technologies on democracy. With the Brexit watershed on the horizon however, a massive question mark remains about what the UK’s relationship with technology, democracy, and of course Europe, will look like in the future. What’s for certain, according to a new report by Future Market Insights, is that Europe will remain the leading market for earphones and headphones. The increasing trend of mobile shopping, e-banking, and bringing your own device (BYOD) is driving the global demand for smartphones and tablets, which is, in turn, boosting technological advancements in the earphones and headphones market. And there’s lots more to be positive about, with a number of big moves taking place within the world of audio. July saw Focusrite acquire leading studio monitor company ADAM Audio of Berlin, Germany, marking the first acquisition
for The Focusrite Group since going public in 2014. Meanwhile, the Institute for Sound & Music – also based in Berlin – announced the US premiere of its ISM Hexadome installation in partnership with San Francisco’s Gray Area Festival. The ISM Hexadome, which AMI covered in December 2018, was selected to travel to the United States as part of the “Wunderbar Together” initiative, celebrating a year of German-American friendship; happy days! In this issue you’ll find an interview with PMC’s Maurice Patist, who travelled to the High End Show in Munich with his Dolby Atmos for Music demos. This process saw the remixing of perhaps the most iconic jazz album of all time at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Elsewhere, Daniel Dylan Wray speaks to accomplished producer Michael Beinhorn, who certainly has some stories to tell! This issue’s cover feature on the other hand is a Game Audio special in which we discover how the soundtrack for Mortal Kombat 11, possibly one of the most cinematically brutal video games ever, came to fruition. Turn to page 18 to find out more. Following a slight hiatus in the last issue, readers will be pleased to see the return of AMI’s familiar lineup of gear reviews, featuring an eclectic mix of products from the likes of Neumann, WARM Audio, RØDE Microphones and Genelec. Before all this though, you can get stuck into one of this issue’s three Opinion pieces, covering topics from AVoIP and recording studio design through to gender equality in audio post. As always, please feel free to get in touch with your feedback and don’t forget to look out for the September issue, which will feature a special IBC 2019 preview! ■
Colby Ramsey Editor Audio Media International
Experts in the issue
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Jessie Anne Spence is an ADR supervisor at King Soundworks in LA
Daniel Knighten is vice president of product development at Audio Precision
Wilbert Roget is a composer who has primarily worked on big video game titles
July | August 2019
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TECHNOLOGIES EVOLVE, VALUES REMAIN. 01 AMI May19 FC_Final.indd 1
MAKING THE CASE FOR AVOIP Brad Price, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Audinate, gives us a rundown…
udio and Video over IP - AVoIP - is the use of a computer network to transport real-time audio and video in an AV system. That simple statement belies the enormous changes brought by the use of networking in the AV world. In legacy analogue and digital systems, all connections between AV devices are “point-to-point” – a dedicated cable transports media from one device to another. If one wishes to connect to more devices, special hardware may be involved to “split” signals, and all changes to signal path require changes to physical connectors. For systems that go beyond the most basic setups, these changes are often fraught with complexity and additional costs. Networking uses a fundamentally different paradigm. All devices are essentially computers connected using a network switch, and signal paths are logically determined using software. Changes are made instantly to as many devices as desired, distributing signals in nearly any imaginable configuration - all without moving a single wire. AVoIP eliminates the need for special cables and connectors, further breaking down barriers to connectivity with true interoperability. Instead, all data is transferred using standard Ethernet CAT5E or CAT6 cables, or even fiber optic connections for very long distances. Because AVoIP is purely digital, signal integrity is maintained throughout the system with no losses and no introduction of hum or noise, no matter how many devices are involved.
Further, AVoIP brings something that legacy systems have never had - true security. Because AV networks are computer networks, the same robust methods used by IT departments are now available to AV professionals. This means a system can require users to login, and can restrict access to only those areas for which users are authorised. It means all changes to the system are logged and easily seen using management software. This dramatically reduces errors and quickly provides critical information when something goes wrong. The ubiquity of computer networking means standard network equipment is plentiful, robust and cost-effective. By using a common, readily available infrastructure for everything, AVoIP systems are less complex and less expensive to deploy and maintain than legacy systems while delivering almost infinite expansion capacity. The combination of high performance, low cost infrastructure and ease-of-use provided by AVoIP solutions has led to a profusion of products and installations in recent years. This means there are thousands of AVoIP products from which to choose, and thousands of working installations in place.
Getting Started While networking can be used in a piecemeal fashion for segments of an AV system, the benefits are vastly amplified by committing to a completely networked design. This affords designers, integrators and users
the ability to manage the entire system from a single screen, and avoids format convertors, workarounds and unnecessary detours outside the digital domain. Some might be surprised to discover that the requirements for AV networking gear are not at all onerous. Ordinary, “off the shelf” gigabit switches are perfectly adequate, and managed switches are recommended for maximum flexibility when combining AV traffic with other data types on the same network. To this equipment, AV traffic is simply data traffic and nothing more. A good network design should employ a “star” topology (all devices home to a network switch) wherever possible to reduce unnecessary connections between switches. Multiple switches may be chained together in order to expand the number of ports and/or to place connections in convenient locations, but care should be taken to avoid large numbers (e.g., greater than 10) of “switch hops.” Most large AVoIP systems require no more than three or four switch hops due to the large port counts available. When speaking with an integrator about deploying such a system, be sure they are familiar with the most recent changes and improvements in this technology. The most committed manufacturers of AVoIP technology offer training and certification programs which can help you to identify people with the proper knowledge and experience. Moving to AVoIP is a smart move that looks to the future with easy expansion and readily available equipment of all kinds. Choosing AVoIP now is the best way to “future proof” decisions you must make today. ■
Brad Price is the senior product marketing manager at Audinate – www.audinate.com
July | August 2019
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SO YOU’RE THINKING OF BUILDING A STUDIO? Eddie Veale reveals his top tips for designing and creating the best possible music creation and listening environment...
here are many horror stories about how studio builds have gone wrong but it can be a smooth and enjoyable time if done properly. To ensure the studio is built to expectation, the most important step when designing a studio is to spend as much time as possible directly with the designer on the detail. This often answers the key question, “what am I really trying to accomplish”. Most mistakes that happen later on in the studio creation process can be traced back to not taking the time at the outset. There are critical issues that need to be agreed, such as how much sound isolation is required, will the music being created in the studio impact on neighbours and what could the repercussions be, and how will environmental noise impact on the studio and recordings. It’s very important to determine the exact sizes for the room or rooms and bigger does not always mean better. And, of course, these decisions are generally dependent on budget. Once these things are understood the room(s) can then be designed around them. It’s invaluable to talk with music editors, mix techs, sound supervisors, engineers and producers about their work. Hearing what they like and don’t like about studios helps refine things and make the project even better. However it doesn’t stop there. With studios often being built in densely populated areas, isolation is a must and can be the largest construction cost for studios. It’s wise not to compromise on the acoustics; after all you wouldn’t put a Ferrari engine in a Mini! The biggest technical challenges have tended to revolve around noise isolation but the laws of
physics don’t show much sign of changing, so an acoustically well-designed room should remain so indefinitely. In music, many artists and producers are tending towards a relaxed and homely feel to their studios rather than the more traditional studio approach. Their aim is for the studio to be a comfortable space conducive to collaboration and creativity. The equipment needs to fit around that requirement and not get in the way of “the creative process”. However, there is still the requirement that they can accurately monitor and mix which can throw up some challenges in balancing layout and aesthetics with acoustic performance.
As immersive audio continues to develop and grow in post with Dolby Atmos at the forefront, a big design change has been the quantity and location of speakers, and maintaining acoustic quality in smaller spaces with tightening budgets. Timescales also remain a challenge with films booked many months in advance – projects have very real deadlines and need to be finished on time. As for the future, there’s an ongoing trend of trying to squeeze more and more out of smaller spaces. That is generally not a recipe for success! Designs can eek out every last bit of performance whilst helping clients understand what can realistically be achieved in a small room. ■
Eddie Veale is the director and owner of studio design and construction firm Veale Associates – www.va-studiodesign.com
July | August 2019
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GIRLS ON FILM Jessie Anne Spence, ADR Supervisor on romantic dramedy and satirical telenovela Jane the Virgin, opens up about gender equality in audio post and her role on a show that heavily promotes women both on and off screen...
t’s probably no secret that the CW hit series Jane the Virgin has been championing women throughout its five season history. From Gina Rodriguez’s tireless work with young women to the countless articles punning that Jane’s “no virgin” to gender equality; and I’m here to tell you that it’s all true. I’m the ADR Supervisor on Jane the Virgin, and a proud member of the heavily female populated team. What’s even more rare than being a woman in the audio post world is that I have been working with the show since the beginning.
Jane the Virgin aired its fifth and final season earlier this year
Let’s back up a few frames. Growing up in Michigan, I never thought I would move to Los Angeles and work in entertainment. While attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago to become a graphic artist, I became interested in internet streaming technology and started hosting and engineering a radio talk show that continued for eight years. The show, which aired in multiple markets, opened up the possibilities of work in entertainment. Leaving the commercial artist career behind, I moved to LA to pursue a career in music.
Funny enough, I got started in the post audio world accidentally by doing ADR for a producer friend I lived with. I was writing music at the time and had a little home studio. He came running in one day and said, “We need to re-record this whole scene! The actress is on her way!” I was blindsided and had no idea what I was doing. So, I had to figure out how to do ADR in half an hour and fell in love with the process right then. I don’t know if it was working closely with the talent or if it was the meticulous technique needed to seamlessly marry the VO with the on-screen speaking parts that I loved, but I decided then and there that I wanted to go into sound for TV rather than continue in music. After changing careers, I did some internships while trying to meet people in the industry. The way I fell into King Soundworks is quite the Hollywood story. I was at a Thanksgiving party at my yoga instructor’s house in La Canada, talking to her daughter about my new interest in audio post. She recounted babysitting for a man who, if memory served her, had something to do with post production. She then introduced me to David Fluhr, Stage A mixer at Disney and president of the Cinema Audio Society. Bam! I worked CAS for a few years before he introduced me to Greg King. The funniest part to me is that I saw an ad for King Soundworks in The Hollywood Reporter while I was interning and instantly wanted to work there. It’s interesting how things come full circle. When I started at King Soundworks I had little experience, but the founder Greg King believes in mentoring and nurturing the talent he hires. We’re
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King Soundworks in LA
given opportunities to learn and try out different aspects of the job while he guides us to an audio path conducive to our strengths. Greg recognised that I love working with people and different personalities, as well as garner great performances. He’s been helping me cultivate these skills since I first started at King Soundworks. I’ve never considered myself a feminist, but as I continue through this male-dominated industry I notice the need for women to be and become more visible in this line of work. We need to increase the amount of women in entertainment without hiring them just because they’re women. We need to make women being in the Hollywood workforce the norm. Speaking out helps, going to events helps, writing articles like this helps. OK, let’s get back to why Jane helps. Jane the Virgin is my baby in the postproduction world because I’ve come into my own while working on the show. I started as an assistant in season one and by season four I was
the ADR Supervisor. I was lucky. I got to grow with a show and work with the original ADR Supervisor, Darren King, who ended up not being able to do the final seasons. A show that heavily promotes women both on and off screen happened to also be my chance to rise through the ranks. The powerful actors and characters you see on screen are backed by an intelligent and talented crew. It’s because of shows like this that women are rightly becoming more prevalent in the industry. So what do I do exactly? Being an ADR Supervisor for such a dialogue-driven show means I oversee the dialogue in each episode, from starting a conversation with the on-set production recordist, to doing quick fixes on the last mix day. I decide what we need to re-record off set after the show’s already been filmed, versus what we can cut together in our editing process. One of the more interesting ADR stories involves Jane’s son, Mateo, played by Elias Janssen, who was seven
years old at the time. Elias’ two front upper teeth fell out during production, and for a few episodes, had him wear a “flipper” (fake teeth) while filming. Unfortunately, but understandably, the flipper caused some dialogue issues on set. We had to bring him in to ADR the entire episode. The funny thing is, even shooting the lines without the flipper in still didn’t sound like his normal speech, but he was a champion and nailed it. It’s been an absolute pleasure seeing more women in the audio post world, and it’s true that you need to raise other women up, so I couldn’t end without giving a shout out to the incredibly welcoming women who gave me great advice and helped me feel accepted: Kim Drummond, Jeena Schoenke, Karol Urban, Jesse Dodd, Ann Scibelli, Deb Adair, amongst many others. Without these strong figures I may not be where I am today. I am confident that I will see and continue to work with many female faces. ■
Jessie Anne Spence is an ADR Supervisor at King Soundworks in Los Angeles, California - www.kingsoundworks.com
July | August 2019
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BIG IN THE GAME AMI recently spoke to Jeff Bloom, founder of Synchro Arts, about the company’s 25-year journey creating award-winning audio tools for film, TV and music production...
eff Bloom’s background weaves in and out of music and technology. While doing a Physics PhD at the University College Cardiff he started exploring psychoacoustics, which involved manipulating sound with very primitive computers. From here, he started thinking about digital recording studios and how to build one, engaging in conversations about how digital audio could be used in the film industry – especially in ADR – and coming up with algorithms. Together with a friend, he created a machine for lip syncing which they tried to sell to a number of big film studios, a task that proved tricky at the time. Jeff went on to start developing other digital audio equipment, including early DAWs such as SoundStation. After a number of business conflicts, he left that company in 1994, and with the technology that he was able to take with him, founded Synchro Arts. The algorithms had to be rewritten, and Jeff met technical director John Ellwood around that time, who has also been with the company since. By 1995, Synchro Arts was showing the first VocALign product at NAB and AES shows, and were one of the first Digidesign plugin partners. Initially aimed at the film industry, VocALign then started being used by music professionals for doubling vocals and tightening backing tracks. It was used on some big name albums from the likes of Steely Dan and Black Eyed Peas, as well as lip syncing on shows like Friends and Seinfeld and movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Around 2000, Jeff started revisiting some ideas about the consumer side of the industry, and came up with Revoice Studio. He showed it to Dreamworks who thought it might be useful on a bonus feature for Shrek. The deadline was tight but Jeff got a team together. The feature allowed users to record their own voice and lip sync it to the characters in the film, which ended up being a big hit. A year later, Jeff got a phone call from Dreamworks’ lawyers saying they were being sued for infringing some patented technology about image replacement. The lawsuit was eventually scrapped a number of years later, but at the time Jeff had to strip the company back and focus solely on the pro audio business. Jeff was forced to think about what the company could do differently now, and started looking at how to transfer and align pitch effectively and in time. By 2004,
John Ellwood and Jeff Bloom collect a Technical Emmy Award
Synchro Arts was back making web-based consumer products for correcting vocals. He showed the technology to producer Tony Maserati in LA, who asked if it could be used professionally, and it turns out that the music industry needed it more than Jeff thought! From 2012, Synchro Arts started rolling out Revoice Pro, which essentially takes the timing and pitch of an in-tune voice and transfers that to one or more tracks, so that users can double and compress backing tracks using APT (audio performance transfer). With Revoice Pro’s pitch transfer, users can take the intonation pattern of a voice and transfer it onto a completely different person – essentially manipulating the inflection – which is especially useful for those doing voice overs in post production. By this time however, due to the rise in bedroom music producers, 80 per cent of the company’s business was in music and the other 20 per cent in post production. The latest version of Revoice Pro, 4.1, is very flexible indeed. With the latest version, users can group tracks into one control panel and tweak and tune them as a group of processes simultaneously. It also streamlines workflows by automatically creating an output track, and is constantly getting smarter, easier and faster through a combination of DSP changes. At the time of interview, Jeff had recently been on a trip around the US to showcase these simplifications to professional users, including Grammy-winning recording engineer Darrell Thorp. During his time on the road, Jeff saw Revoice Pro being used for exactly
what it was designed for: tightening up double tracks and backing vocals, and making double tracks where there wasn’t any to begin with. With the emergence of streaming services, there’s a big need for fast turnarounds and faster technology to help users carry out these really mundane jobs like lip syncing and lining up music tracks. On the consumer side however, Jeff believes the technology can be used effectively for language learning tools in the future. Around a year ago, Jeff was contacted by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) about having a category at the Technical Emmy awards called Automatic Sound Conformation. He put forward one of the company’s older products, Titan, that had been around for 22 years. Titan was being used on a huge list of big TV shows including Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and House of Cards, much to Jeff’s surprise, and Synchro Arts bagged its first Technical Emmy as a result. Most recently Synchro Arts has collaborated with Celemony, the company who created Melodyne, on ARA (audio random access), which helps the plugin talk to DAWs with a streamlined interface and takes a lot of the legwork out of the process. They’ve worked with a number of DAWs to implement this method, including Cubase, and are planning on integrating it with Logic and Pro Tools in the near future. ■ www.synchroarts.com
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ABOVE AND BEYOND Acclaimed music producer Michael Beinhorn has carved out a legendary career working with a range of superstar acts. His recordings have achieved combined worldwide sales of over 45 million albums, and he is one of only a handful of producers to have two separate recordings debut on Billboard’s Top Ten in the same week. Here, Daniel Dylan Wray speaks to Beinhorn about his experiences as a producer, his track record working with bands of notorious reputations, and his most recent venture into pre-production...
ole, Marilyn Manson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ozzy Osbourne, Soul Asylum, Soundgarden, Korn… the credit list goes on for producer Michael Beinhorn. Whilst he may be synonymous with some of the biggest selling rock records of the 1990s – earning a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year in 1998 for his work on Hole’s Celebrity Skin and Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals – his origins are a little different to what you might expect. He began as a musician “albeit not a very good
one,” co-founding the New York band Material with Bill Laswell at just 17. The band was soon approached by Brian Eno to work on a track off his landmark album Ambient 4: On Land. “That was a very interesting experience,” Beinhorn recalls. “Eno had been a shining light in my life since the first moment I heard his first solo record. It changed my life irreparably. The fact that years later I was working with him was incredibly exciting.” From the experimental sounds of Material to working with Eno and even turning down working with a young
Madonna, Beinhorn soon found himself in another genre altogether. The band, and now production unit, found themselves working with Herbie Hancock on his 1983 album Future Shock, which produced the hit single Rockit. By the age of just 23 Beinhorn had co-writing credits on a Billboard number one single that turned out to be one of the most influential hip-hop songs of all time. He remembers that period as being a beautiful one for cross-genre collaboration in New York. “Hip hop had taken shape years prior to our involvement and there was an underground scene
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PRODUCER PROFILE that had developed,” he says. “It fuelled a lot of the art that people were making. There didn't feel like a dividing line between stuff even though the styles of music were very separate from one another. There was no reason why you couldn't cross-pollinate and take things that were way out on the fringe and bring them into a pop or RnB framework. There was so much going on – it was a rich landscape.” Soon Beinhorn realised that the excitement of making music existed beyond self-creation. “Being in a recording studio and working on music as a process and the sonic aspect of it – the arrangement, the performances and the psychology of the artist – all gradually became more interesting to me than getting on a stage and playing some songs. On stage I would sometimes get a feeling of like: is that all there is?” A few years down the line he ended up working with a relatively unknown band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers. By this stage they had a couple of albums behind them but were yet to explode. In fact, they were closer to imploding as a result of crippling drug addiction and sour band relations. “It isn’t anything I would recommend to anyone,” he says about stepping into such a troubled situation. However, he had the confidence of youth on his side. “You could bounce beer bottles off me,” he says of the time. “I could tolerate anything. That said, it was really high impact work and I wasn't prepared for it. I'd never
worked with artists in that state before. I learned how to improvise and it really dropped me in the deep end. I had to do a lot of extreme stuff and go beyond my role. At one point I ended up having to fire Anthony Kiedis, which is not something I had any right to do but I took it upon myself because there wasn't any other options. It was sink or swim.” The album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, was a huge success, as was the follow up album he also worked on with them, which rocketed the band to huge success after their demise seemed inevitable. “It was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever been involved in,” he says. “Anthony cleaned up and I said if you come back clean I’ll be there for you 100 per cent of the way; if you don't let me down, I won't let you down.”
By 1994 Beinhorn had a string of hugely successful records behind him including Soul Ayslum’s Grave Dancers Union and Soundgarden’s Superunknown. Aerosmith followed, as did Ozzy Osbourne and the mega huge Hole and Marilyn Manson records but despite the big names, accolades and demand, Beinhorn tried to keep focused. “I just kept on moving,” he says. “I made it my intent to not know what was going on [in terms of scene and industry]. I worked with a lot of bands I was unfamiliar with, so that I would have no preconceptions about what I had to do with them.” Although he admits that, “I came close to that working with Ozzy. I was a big Sabbath fan and I idolised him on those records.” But Ozzy was a different man from the Sabbath days. Sober but damaged, Beinhorn recalls he would get ill during the sessions and his daily substitution
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PRODUCER PROFILE in place of booze and drugs – consisting of “two soup-sized bowls of coffee, three six-packs of diet Pepsi and chain smoking cigarettes and cigars with no food,” – didn’t do his voice any favours. So is Beinhorn a glutton for punishment? Working with artists and bands with notorious reputations for substance abuse and unpredictable temperaments? “I think for a long time I was attracting that kind of thing to tell you the truth,” he says. “I wound up working with a lot of artists that lesser mortals were afraid to. So I had to take a look at that. It felt like a good mix at the time but it's become a lot less interesting. Although a lot of those people were also extremely creative, and they were capable of doing remarkable things. If it's just
a personality type without the art then forget it, I’m not interested.” So what does attract Beinhorn when working with an artist? “It's about the connection,” he offers. “There has to be something compelling that I can get my hands on and amplify. On a personal level, it all comes down to the intricacies of interpersonal relationships, as well as the ability and the desire of the artist to push their own boundaries as far as they can.” Today Beinhorn tries to work with artists in the area of pre-production; a vital step of the recording process he feels is missing from records today. “A lot of artists don't even know what pre-production is,” he says. “To do a record properly you need money and to commit months of time to get songs into a state that they
should be in before they go into a studio. My thought was that we need to try and make this available to people that need it.” 40 years since he stepped into the music world, the thing that keeps him going is the ever-evolving role of the producer. “My relationship to it has deepened,” he reflects. “The idea of how I can benefit an artist’s work has gotten richer. It's a more interesting and indepth process. It’s truly captivating to see how people respond to you when you come into their creative space with your knowledge and your experience and what their perception of all that is. There's so much to the process that it never fails to be fascinating.” ■ www.michaelbeinhorn.com
Beinhorn worked on two of the Red Hot Chili Pepper's early albums
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PREPARE FOR KOMBAT 2019’s biggest fighting game, Mortal Kombat 11, combines carefully crafted music and dialogue to help define a truly cinematic audio experience for the player. Here, Director of Audio at developer NetherRealm Studios, Rich Carle, and the game’s Lead Composer, Wilbert Roget, talk to AMI about their efforts to make MK11 the most epic, realistic installment to date...
AMI: To what extent did you set out to make the audio for Mortal Kombat 11 completely unique? Rich Carle: With every Mortal Kombat game, we wipe the slate clean and grow our audio experience all over again. That means we spend a substantial amount of time recording new sounds and experimenting with various processing techniques. Every punch, kick and body blow is supported with custom-crafted sound that is unique to Mortal Kombat 11. That’s not to say that we don’t use any sounds from previous iterations. We take great care to evolve the sound of Mortal Kombat just as the designers and artists are evolving the gameplay and the look of the game. We still want Scorpion to sound like Scorpion – but better. The end result we aim for is that the fans get something completely new and fresh, but at the same time, it should feel a little like coming home too. NetherRealm Studios has an amazing cinematics team that works closely with creative director, Ed Boon, to make sure each and every visible frame is worthy of our players. Dialogue and music play an important role in making these cinematic experiences come to life. For example, we use a combination of music and dialogue to heighten the depth of the player’s experience before the fight even begins. As the level comes into view, intro
music provides anticipation and the selected characters taunt each other using our custom ‘enemy aware’ intro dialogue system. As players experiment with the roster, they will hear thousands of lines of personal banter that supports the complex web of relationships in the Mortal Kombat universe. No other fighting game features such a narrative driven presentation. Wilbert Roget: Mortal Kombat 11 was a unique project for me in that I drew inspiration from both its game and film music heritage to match score to picture. It was my first foray into the Mortal Kombat franchise as a composer, but because I’ve been a fan of the series ever since the very first game, I had a fantastic opportunity to use that perspective for my own score. For our Story mode, music is used both in a traditional cinematic fashion, underscoring the action and emotional contour of the scenes, and also as a bridge between the cutscenes and the one-on-one fighting gameplay. Thanks to NetherRealm’s multi-stem in-game music system powered by Wwise, we have seamless transitions between the cutscenes and stage cues, accompanying the seamless visual transitions from cutscene cameras to gameplay. With the help of the dynamic underscore, players experience the story as a continuous, naturally flowing narrative.
AMI: Could you provide a bit of context about the game itself and how this affected the way you approached the music and sound design? RC: While aesthetically Mortal Kombat has always had one foot in reality and the other firmly in the ridiculous, the gameplay mechanics prioritise speed, skill and fun. What this means to us is that the sounds we design often have to be very short and powerful, and run the gamut on the reality spectrum. Sound designers typically start by spending days creating what we call sound palettes for each character. Sound palettes contain a wide range of sounds that have been custom recorded and manipulated to support a particular character’s gameplay design. For example, a character like Noob Saibot, who can quickly clone himself using an inky black magic, needs a lot of quick, wet, whooshy sounds as one of the colours in his sound palette. Taking this step of developing a palette of hundreds of new sounds requires more time up front but can save a lot of time when revisions or last-minute sounds are needed. The custom palette approach allows us to quickly design fresh sounds that tightly match the gameplay. WR: Mortal Kombat 11 is distinctive within the franchise in that it has an even more epic, complex
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Scorpion faces off against Sub-Zero
and expansive story than previous entries, while simultaneously painting the cast as relatable, dynamic characters. The game portrays real people with believable emotions and places them into extraordinary situations. We decided early on that characters should be the focus of the score, and so I created unique leitmotifs and signature sounds for every character and faction in the game. They needed to be distinct and instantly recognisable, but still sound immediately appropriate for this roster full of personas that gamers have known for over 25 years. The music itself needed to reflect the diversity of the characters, and so in addition to the orchestra, I recruited soloist musicians and vocalists from around the world to perform my eclectic score. This included a guzheng player from China, a kemenche performer in Greece, a traditional “kulning” folk singer in Sweden, a Brazilian violin virtuoso, a soul vocalist from the US and many other fantastic performers across four different continents. I also made extensive use of several hardware analogue synthesisers, each with unique timbres to underscore different factions. Having so many diverse sound sources facilitated bringing nuance to each character, their dynamic arcs and their relationships. AMI: What did you do that was completely new or different in terms of recording music and sound design? Could you tell us about some of your go-to gear that you used throughout the process? RC: We recorded a lot of more obscure vegetables this go around! This time we focused more on stuff like bell
peppers, cantaloupes, grapefruits, mini pumpkins and spaghetti squash. Some go-to gear we used is Valhalla Shimmer, Izotope Alloy 2, U-He Uhbik-G and Waves R-Bass. Sound design is almost always done on Windows machines running Reaper, but we use Nuendo as well. WR: I do all my music composition on a single Windows PC running Reaper. The bulk of my virtual instruments are Kontakt samples, with some EastWest Play instruments such as Hollywood Strings. I also use all of Valhalla’s fantastic reverb VSTs, particularly Valhalla Shimmer and Valhalla VintageVerb, and I’m a huge fan of the Soundtoys plugin set. I primarily used Zebra and Sylenth-1 as my software synthesisers, with some occasional weirdness created in Reaktor or FM8. I used hardware analogue synths extensively as well, again with each instrument being used to represent a particular faction. The Special Forces are a high-tech Earthrealm faction represented by Sonya Blade, Jax Briggs, Jacqui Briggs, Cassie Cage and Johnny Cage so I used the Moog Sub Phatty for arps and basses that felt slick and modern. Conversely, Kano’s Black Dragon faction has a much more irresponsible relationship with messy, experimental black-market technology so I used the semi-modular Arturia Minibrute 2s to create unstable, buzzy bass loops and leads. The Revenants are a faction of undead Netherrealm warriors whose sole motivation is revenge against Earthrealm, so I used the Korg MS20mini and its notoriously growly filter to portray their unquenchable anger. Lastly, I used the Korg Minilogue and Monotron series synths to create various textures, sweeps and hoover leads. For processing and effects, I used the
Moog MF Drive pedal, a Gallien-Krueger Backline 350 bass amp and various delay and overdrive pedals, along with countless software FX plugins. With regards to recording technique, I believe that Mortal Kombat 11 has the largest roster of soloist musicians and vocalists that I’ve ever worked with on a single game, and certainly the most diverse! As a result, it didn’t make sense to bring everyone into a single studio session like a typical score recording. Instead, each soloist recorded themselves at their own studios or in local studios nearby. Then, in addition to the standard mixing techniques, I often processed the soloists, as well as full orchestra passages, in various ways to create novel textures and effects. AMI: How did you go about truly capturing the essence of the game? Could MK11 potentially lend itself well to immersive sound formats like Dolby Atmos? RC: Capturing the essence of Mortal Kombat 11 can’t really be distilled down to one technique or one set of sounds. As a player, when all the music, ambience, vocalisations, Foley, announcer and fight sounds are carefully crafted and well-mixed, then the fighting experience feels like you’re controlling a blockbuster movie. When our sound is working well, people stop talking about the game sounding good and start talking about how good it feels to play. We sculpt our mix and sound design to help the player feel more powerful and dangerous, while still holding on to more of a cinematic style aesthetic. We give our players clear audio feedback as to whether or not each attack was successful by using a large set of
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Johnny Cage vs Baraka
shared punches, kicks and whooshes. On top of that, each character has their own unique sound set to enhance their special moves. We are constantly striving to reflect the speed and brutality of the gameplay back to the player. Our game is developed in 5.1. Right now, we’re not getting a lot of fans clamouring for an Atmos mix. We spend quite a bit of time crafting a vibrant 5.1 mix full of quad gameplay music, multichannel announcers and immersive 3D environments. Many areas in Mortal Kombat 11 have crowds that surround the fighting environment and taunt and cheer based on the player’s
Black Dragon faction. Similarly, I processed tiger growls and detuned doublebass scratchbowing to accompany the Tarkatans, a feral and cannibalistic Outworld race. Beyond the character-based elements, a major recurring theme of the game involves time manipulation and time travel. I often used extreme time stretching, gradually transitioning the entire orchestral mix into an affected “frozen” sound, to underscore a few moments where time has slowed down to a stop. I created pad instruments by similarly freezing short sounds like string pizzicato. I also embraced Arabic and South
"From the content creation side, I find that the current era of game scores embraces technology more than ever before" actions. We also make sure the game sounds solid in stereo and on headphones as our players seem to listen in those environments quite a bit. WR: Character-based leitmotifs were the primary focus of my score, but in addition to melodic elements performed on world, synthesised or orchestral instruments, I also made extensive use of identifiable signature sounds. For example, I took recordings of rattlesnakes and processed them with filter sweeps, delays and an auto-pan to accompany the crime lord Kano, giving him a grotesque and unnerving organic element that complements the unstable hi-tech synth vibe of his
Asian instrumentation and melodic embellishments, such as slow string glissandi between chord transitions, to underscore the sands-of-time visual motif. And lastly, during certain time-reversal moments, I used an aleatoric technique influenced by the avant-garde compositions of Witold Lutosławski. I’d write a few beats worth of through-composed notes/rhythms on a violin trio, followed by the direction to repeat the figures with indeterminate speed over the course of several seconds. This created a swirling texture that mimicked the sound of a cassette tape reversing but with distinct pitches and harmonies.
AMI: Could you offer some thoughts about game music/audio in general and the technological advancements that have brought it to the fore? RC: We used Audio Kinetic’s Wwise and a heavily modified version of Unreal 3 as our primary audio technologies for Mortal Kombat 11. Wwise’s hierarchical nature and feature set allowed us the flexibility to divide our project into work units that made the most sense for our workflow. Wwise does a great job of empowering the audio team with useful, well organised and well documented tools. With all their plug-ins, layouts and debug tools, Audio Kinetic is setting the bar for audio middleware. More and more of the audio processes can be done in real-time by the gaming system. I’m definitely looking forward to what the next generation of game hardware can do for audio. Using a CPU to drive real-time reverbs and delays that are based on a level’s actual geometry and acoustic properties seems incredibly immersive to me. WR: From the content creation side, I find that the current era of game scores embraces technology more than ever before. Today’s soundtracks frequently employ unique and innovative synthesis and musical sound design techniques that go beyond the classic assumptions of a cinematic score. And with regards to implementation, seamless dynamic music is becoming the norm across all genres. I’m most excited about middleware tools like Wwise and Elias facilitating not only adaptive scores but even hybrid scores that combine standard pre-rendered audio with real-time, context-aware MIDI. ■
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Maurice Patist, Steve Genewick and David Rideau at Capitol Studios
REVIVING A CLASSIC PMC Speakers pulled out all the stops at this year’s High End Munich international hi-fi event with its demonstrations of Dolby Atmos for Music. The company’s demo room welcomed a record number of visitors as people flocked to hear tracks from Miles Davis’ iconic 1959 jazz album Kind of Blue and his 1960 Sketches of Spain remixed into Dolby Atmos. Here, Colby Ramsey speaks to Maurice Patist, President of Sales and Marketing at PMC USA, about how the company was given unprecedented access to create them using the recently installed PMC Dolby Atmos system at Capitol Studios, LA... 22
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PMC’s pop-up Dolby Atmos booth at High End Munich
Where did the initial idea for the project come from? Maurice: About four or five years ago I did a project with David Rideau, one of the other engineers that I did this one with, in which we remixed Sketches of Spain in 5.1. It was a special project as the family was also involved, and this was my first contact with them. We worked with the original three-track and ended up making a 5.1 mix out of that. Fast forward a few years up to around two years ago. I ended up designing and building a Dolby Atmos for Music room at Capitol Studios, which is Studio C. I worked very closely with Steve Genewick, the senior engineer at Capitol, and really started bringing this Dolby Atmos for Music project come to life. We soon started to see projects come through, one of the first being Elton John’s Rocketman, which Greg Penny mixed there. Over time, I learned a lot about mixing in this new environment, and ended up building a second room for Capitol in Santa Monica and another in Nashville to start expanding the capabilities. When I heard how particular instruments sounded in the rooms, I thought, ‘how cool would it be to do this with more of Miles’ music?’, using Dolby Atmos to take an older recording and bring it to life. I always loved Miles’ music and always wondered what it would sound like if you were in that same room, rather than being behind the glass in the control room. I ended up contacting Dave about this idea and told him that I’m planning on contacting the Miles Davis estate to ask them if they’re willing to let us have a go at one of the tracks. We had a Grammy event going on at the time so I invited drummer Vince Wilburn down to listen to the Dolby Atmos system we had set up. He was impressed, and when I asked if we could do Kind of Blue (I thought I was really pushing my luck on this one as it’s the most iconic jazz album on the planet), I was extremely surprised when he said he was a fan of the idea, and said yes. He contacted Sony straight away to get the masters and sort out the legalities, and by the end of the week I had the original digital conversions of the three-track masters. I was quite frankly shocked that we were able to get hold of them, and really didn’t want to screw up the opportunity! I was very keen for other people to hear what we could do with the mixes and I wanted to break the mould a bit, so we
ended up designing an Atmos system and a pop-up room based around our flagship hi-fi system Fenestria for the High End Munich show. How did you actually go about creating the Dolby Atmos mix? Maurice: I took the three-tracks into Capitol, because for us and for Dolby, that is the absolute benchmark of quality recording studio. Me, Steve and Dave then started experimenting with the mix. I was confident that we would be able to show this off at the High End show due to it being such an iconic, prestigious album, with the Dolby Atmos mix being the show stopper. I wanted to be conservative and show audiences that you can utilise this technology to make old recordings come to life. We had the original mono vinyls, stereo vinyl, the 1997 legacy stereo mixes, and went back to all of those. When we pulled the masters up in mono however, they were amazing, so we knew we couldn’t possibly screw this up. There was some hard panning going on with the stereo mix, so what we did with the mono was just open it up slightly, pan it a tiny bit and create the space with how we would imagine the setup to be in the studio. Then we had to think about what Columbia Studios would’ve sounded like, because of course it doesn’t exist anymore. We didn’t have Columbia, but we did have Capitol. After we panned the masters in a way that we felt achieved proper imaging, we ended up taking two speakers, put them into Studio A – the large live room at Capitol – aimed them at the wall, and then together with Steve and Dave built a microphone arrangement that mimics where the speakers are in a Dolby Atmos environment. So we basically built a live chamber in an Atmos setup. While we were listening back to it, we tried to create a sense of space, and by determining the distances between the microphones and the height we created a space around the original tracks. When we added that space into the speakers, it came together beautifully. We spent a lot of time balancing the reverbs so that it really felt like you were in the room, looking at the players with a huge sense of space, but in a very subtle kind of way. More importantly,
we ended up making the mixes without EQ or compression so we feel like we stayed true to the original recordings, which were sensational! How did this translate to the High End show and how was it received there? Maurice: A lot of people came in assuming that they weren’t going to like the mix because it wasn’t stereo. When we played it for them, they were shocked as we blew stereo out of the water. Everybody who heard it was very impressed and some of the reactions were incredible. We had nothing but amazingly positive reviews, but people weren’t so happy when we told them it wasn’t yet available! This is all going to change now however. Because of the success, Sony want us to release it (they had me remix the stereo as well). When we brought Miles Davis’ family into Capitol, they enthused that there is just no other way to listen to Miles’ music anymore after hearing our mixes. Whenever Dolby Atmos becomes available for streaming maybe we’ll see the two albums released in the format. It was a huge success for us having been done all under the banner of PMC and on our speaker systems. We really did something so unconventional by going into the ‘Kingdom of Stereo’ with this rig and blowing people’s minds where they were determined not to like it. When it comes down to it though, it was all about respecting and honouring the music, so we left it all original and left all the original mistakes in. We had the benefit of having amazing masters and so the credit should really go to Fred Plaut, the original recording engineer. Capitol are mixing hundreds of tracks at the moment for Dolby, but it’s clear that on some of the older legacy albums it has so much potential to bring it to life, and experience it in such a different way. The overall response we got from the project was better than anything we could have hoped for. ■ www.pmc-speakers.com
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TESTING, TESTING AMI speaks to Daniel Knighten, vice president of product development at Audio Precision, about the company’s approach to audio measurement, analysis and testing equipment…
AMI: What kind of products do you offer and what is your main focus? DK: While Audio Precision’s main focus – audio measurement – has been a constant since our inception in 1984, our product portfolio has evolved throughout the past three-plus decades to meet the expanding test needs of audio product developers and manufacturers worldwide. True to that focus, audio analysers and analysis software are our primary offering, supported by an array of hardware and software options, as well as a variety of test accessories. AMI: How has the market for audio analysers and audio testing evolved/changed since you’ve been involved? DK: Probably the single easiest driver one can point to for changes in the audio measurement
industry is the consumer electronics industry. You need look no further than mobile phones and smart speakers to see a variety of factors impacting audio test: a seemingly endless array of interfaces, increasing channel count, the need for perceptual evaluation of audio (whether speech or music), and open-loop test configurations. AMI: To what extent has AP adapted its approach to meet changing demands? DK: Three key adaptations come to mind, all related to the market drivers just mentioned and all tied to our APx Series audio analysers and APx500 audio measurement software. The arrival of APx in 2006 introduced a platform with hardware capable of testing up to sixteen channels of audio simultaneously, a modular chassis to support an
expanding array of interface modules (e.g. digital serial, PDM, etc.), and control software that combines measurement versatility with an intuitive user interface and code-free automation. AMI: What do you think has been the main contributing factor that has got you to your current position as a market leader? DK: Certainly, our ability to adapt and innovate in order to meet the evolving audio test needs of product designers and manufacturing engineers comes to mind. However, the more likely candidate would be the combination of several elements that all trace back to our founding 35 years ago: focus on audio test, dedication to measurement accuracy and product reliability, and outstanding technical support.
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AMI: How have you seen the market change with the emergence of immersive audio/object-based sound design? And how do you expect this to develop going forward? DK: Our view of the changes in the market are from the perspective of supplying test systems to developers of products, that may in turn be used by end customers developing immersive audio projects. That is, we are mostly removed a step or two from the direct impact of developments like object-based audio. In that context there has not been any noticeable impact on us from these technologies, yet. What has had a big impact on us is the emergence of smart devices, e.g. smart speakers and related voice interactive products. These have led many companies that have never tested audio or had an audio aspect to their products to suddenly seek us out and look for solutions to qualify the non-traditional implementation of speakers and microphones in everything from thermostats and refrigerators to even hot tubs and toilets.
AMI: Could you tell us how you are planning to develop your products in the future? DK: Our product development plans are always driven by our customers and their test needs. For example, the requirement to test smart devices has led us to develop and expand our capabilities for
open loop test because smart devices seldom have a direct connection to the output of the embedded microphones or the input of the speakers. Watch this space! â– www.ap.com
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NEUMANN NDH 20 Alistair McGhee gets his hands on the legendary microphone manufacturerâ€™s first foray into the headphone market...
Key Features n n n n
Linear sound balance with high sound isolation Excellent comfort for extended listening High quality closed-back metal construction Foldable design
SRP: $499 en-de.neumann.com
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f you’re going to drop a name, drop a big one as Mick Jagger once said to me. In audio technology Neumann is one of the greatest and biggest names, with a microphone making heritage that stretches way, way back and a reputation for quality that stands undiminished by time. And now, Neumann have dropped a new product into the headphone market. The NDH 20 is the first headphone to sport the prestigious Neumann label and on reflection you might wonder why it took so long! First consider that Neumann have been in the studio monitor market for over a decade now and their solutions have found their way into facilities across the world. Other monitor manufacturers seem to be more and more willing to make the plunge into headphones – think KRK, Focal and Adam, although we haven’t really seen much traffic the other way. Neumann’s sister company Sennheiser are a big player in the world of headphones with extensive experience in high end headphone design, and I know that high end Sennheisers have found a regular place in BBC orchestral recording and mixing. However, maybe there’s a more widespread force at work, as more and more music is consumed on headphones. The ubiquity of mobile devices means that millions, or maybe billions of listeners are living their audio lives with headphones and the market for very high quality headphone reproduction is growing apace. And so, all roads lead to the Neumann NDH 20. The Neumann’s arrive very well presented, the packaging is of a high standard and I love the hinged rather than sliding box. Inside you find a soft bag, a choice of coiled or straight cables and a mini jack to quarter inch adapter. Do I miss a hard case? Well yes I do but I’ll overlook that because the rotating and folding earpieces mean the NDH 20s will travel with you much more easily than say my Beyerdynamic 1990 Pros. The NDH 20 is a substantial over the ear, closed back headphone that is finished to the highest standards. Making extensive use of aluminium and beautifully sculpted memory foam pads, this is a very attractive set of cans, with even the cheeky orange fabric covering the drivers adding some pizazz. The visual impact speaks of Neumann’s microphones which of course is no bad thing at all. I wonder if they could do them in that nice Neumann dark gray? In use they are very, very comfortable and the over ear design means the sound balance is less influenced by position on your head – good choice. The isolation is excellent which of course is a killer feature for studio headphones and indeed for location work. Could the NDH 20 lure some location recordists away from the classic HD 25/26 set up? Time will tell. I asked Neumann about specifications and their response was most interesting – the NDH 20 has been designed by ear. The company didn’t start from scratch though, drawing on some elements of the Sennheiser HD 630 (yes the ones with the variable bass control),
though the drivers are new (made just across the water in Ireland) and many components have been redesigned by Neumann. What no one quibbles with is the low distortion: class leading and certainly monitor quality. If you hear distortion using the NDH 20s, it’s on your recording mate. With regards to frequency balance, Neumann’s aim was to match a pair of studio monitor speakers, not surprisingly a pair of Neumann studio monitor speakers. That of course makes perfect sense as you want your monitoring decisions to be uniform across your listening platforms. Sadly the arrival of the NDH 20s coincided with my room being under construction and I was without recourse to Tannoy or Harbeth monitors. However in the meantime I rely on Beyerdynamic 1990 Pros and Ultrasone Signature Pros and both of these headphones provide stiff competition for any new cans on the block. So what do the NDH 20s sound like? The answer is very, very good indeed. Revealing, detailed and dynamic are just three of the characteristics – I can hear tape hiss on older recordings (yes I am that old!) that had slipped past me with lesser monitoring gear, and insight into layered backing vocals was a joy to behold. Clive Gregson’s acoustic picking and stunning songwriting moved me. These headphones are musical monitors. Of course, closed back headphones have a certain sound and it’s harder to build soundscapes outside your head. That’s where open backs like the 1990s or better still quality electrostatics really shine. However the NDH 20 is no image slouch and very much at the top of the table in terms of closed back designs. While the NDH 20 is good across the frequency band, the bottom end has a power, energy and extension that is frankly startling, thunderous even, which of course is going to win many,
many friends in the punch and grind community. But what about mixing? I remixed a demo on Neumann, Beyerdynamic and Ultrasone - paying close attention to the kick and bass. I was keen to find out how far from the established ‘monitor mix’ I would be. The end result I found surprising. Mixing blind on multiple takes I found myself within a dB on the kick and within two or three on bass with each of the headphones. And where the results varied between headphones, they were repeatable on each model. Consistency was certainly achievable and all the while the NDH 20s allowed the fine balancing that makes mixing so worthwhile. In use, I found the Neumann’s almost transparent to wear. They are substantial but very comfortable. Their isolation for studio work is top notch and they feel like a purchase designed for life, to borrow a Manic phrase. Speakers and headphones are maybe the most personal of choices, but Neumann have clearly landed a quality product that competes well above its price. You shouldn’t spend this sort of money without a listen, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If you’re going to drop a name in headphones, Neumann is now a big one. ■
The Reviewer Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television.
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WARM AUDIO WA-251 AND WA-84 Stephen Bennett takes a look at WARM Audio’s recreation of a classic, along with the company’s latest small diaphragm condenser...
ARM have built an enviable reputation with emulations of classic outboard gear. Rather than re-box Chinese-made technology, WARM has produced a range of products at reasonable prices that stand up well to the original hardware they take their inspiration from. Indeed, my WARM WA-76 compressor sits alongside a vintage 1176 and if there is a difference between them sound quality-wise it’s no more than between different generations of the same equipment. Relatively recently, the company have moved into the microphone business and the two models under review here are the WA-251 and the WA-84, reviewed as a matched stereo pair. The WA-251, as its name suggests, is a recreation of the late ‘50s Telefunken ELA-251, one of the most coveted (and now, very expensive!) microphones ever made. Its AKG-made CK12 capsule and all-valve electronics deliver a sound that is much sought after, particularly by vocalists. The WA-251 uses WARM’s oneinch WA-12-B-60V capsule, an all-brass, edge-terminated device with a 24k gold sputtered 6 micron, mylar NOS PET film. I was very impressed with this capsule’s performance in the WARM WA-14 microphone, so was keen to see how it performed with valve electronics. Output is via USA-made Cinemag transformers, which
have impressed me greatly in my compressor. WARM say they take particular care over the important microphone/control box cable and the Gotham 5 Meter GAC-7, 7-pin cable supplied with the 251 feels like it will survive the rigours of studio use and does nothing to degrade the sound. The microphone offers three polar patterns – cardioid, omni and figure-of-eight, selected from the control box. The build of the microphone itself follows the general look and feel of the original, so it’s a large and hefty beast – which always inspires confidence in vocalists, in particular – and feels extremely sturdy. The WA-84 is a clone, homage, call it what you will to the venerable Neumann KM84. This microphone has found a place in many audio applications, its small size and high-quality sound making it useful for capturing the audio from a wide variety of instruments. For many of us, it’s become the de facto hi-hat microphone – an often-overlooked area of drum recording. The WA-84 is, like it’s inspiration, a small diaphragm, pencil-shaped FET cardioid-pattern condenser with a fully discrete Class A design and includes another of those excellent Cinemag transformers. It’s nicely built, though slightly longer than my KM84s and available in silver or black, which is really useful when used on stage to reduce lighting reflections and ‘hide’ the microphone. The capsule is removable like the original, but it’s not
Key Features WA-251: n All-brass vintage CK12-style capsule n Three polar patterns - cardioid, omni, figure-of-eight n Frequency range: 20 HZ~20 KHZ MSRP: $799 WA-84: n Vintage capsule reproduction n Includes cardioid capsule, shock-mount, mic clip, windscreen and carrying case n 48V phantom powered MSRP: $399 Stereo pair: $749 www.warmaudio.com compatible with the vintage microphone’s transducer. WARM do not offer an omnidirectional option, but I really hope they can do in future, as I‘ve used KM84s effectively in a Decca tree configuration in the past. The WA-84 is available as a stereo pair and both microphones come in a wooden box with the relevant cables and accessories including shock mounts – again inspired by the originals – in the outer packaging.
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I’d have preferred to have the whole caboodle in a camera-style case, but most people who want to take the mics out on the road will already have a microphone flight case to protect their investment. Sadly, I do not own an original 251, but I do have quite a few digital recordings of me singing, all through the same microphone preamplifier into a vintage model, Telefunken’s new ELA M 251E and the Soundelux (Bock) 25 – all of which are significantly more expensive than the 251. So, I set the microphone up feeding directly into my Metric Halo ULN-2 audio interface via a Neve 1073 microphone preamplifier to compare these recordings with WARM’s offering. The results were interesting, with the WARM microphone definitely having the same ‘family sound’ of the vintage and clone 251s. Initially, I felt the WARM wasn’t quite as ‘full’ sounding as the other 251s and that the upper midrange was perhaps a tad harsher. But in blind testing between myself and a friend, we couldn’t reliably pick out the WARM from the others with my voice. All of the recorded 251s sounded different. The perception of which microphone was ‘best’ could easily differ
depending on the use to which it was put. On closer evaluation and in cardioid mode, the WA-251 exhibits the proximity effect as one would expect from a largediaphragm condenser and the microphone is full-bodied, yet balanced, across the frequency spectrum. It appears to be particularly suited to male vocals where the lower midrange brings out the heft of the voice and the upper mids create a nice ‘presence’ that is not at all sibilant. All that was needed to sit the microphone in the mix was a little high pass cutfiltering and the results take EQ extremely well. The 251 was brilliant as a room mic in omni mode and I had great results using it in figure of eight configuration with the WA-84 as the cardioid centre element. I do, happily, have a pair of matched vintage KM-84s, so I used these alongside the WA-84s for the review. Both microphone types performed well for a stereo recording of a string quartet, as stereo overheads on drums, as a hi-hat microphone and to record acoustic guitar. I wouldn’t say the results were identical using the WA-84s and KM-84s, but then my 84s don’t sound like other 84s I’ve used either! As with the 251, the WARM microphone definitely has the 84 family ‘sound’ and both are very different to my AKG 451s. If I had to choose between a pair of WA-84s and a pair of KM-84s of dubious provenance (and at three times the price), I’d go for the WARM mics every time. WARM are happy not to obfuscate the nature of the components used and specification of their equipment which does give a sense of confidence
in their products. They are well built, well presented and sound excellent. It doesn’t really matter if these WARM mics sound exactly like the equipment that inspired them, as even vintage models differ amongst themselves. They do however have the ‘family’ sonic signature of the devices that have inspired them, and these are excellent microphones that are not going to get in the way of making excellent recordings. We’ve come a long way since the days of cheap and brittle-sounding repackaged Chinese condensers and the market is now full of serious contenders in the microphonic areas that these WARM microphones cover. WARM’s offerings do stick out from the pack for me though, as care appears to be taken in the selection of components and manufacturing. I think we’re living through a microphone golden age and if you have need to capture audio in the applications that these types of microphone excel at, WARM’s offerings should definitely be on your shopping list. ■
The Reviewer Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich, he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing at the UEA.
July | August 2019
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RODECASTER PRO AND RØDE PODMIC Jerry Ibbotson tests out this dedicated podcasting combo from Australian manufacturer RØDE...
t’s a sad life I lead but occasionally I like to play a game where I list as many bits of hardware or software that were once cutting-edge but are now defunct. Remember the Netscape browser? Or AOL Mail with Joanna Lumley’s voice? Or how about the search engine Dogpile? Now you’re feeling old… Until fairly recently, I’d have put podcasts in this category. When the first iPods hit the market in 2001, they were all the rage but with the emergence of better and faster streaming video, it looked like they’d had their day. But consider these facts from the UK’s regulator for the communications industry, Ofcom: the number of weekly podcast listeners has almost doubled in five years – from 3.2 million in 2013 to 5.9m in 2018. And the steepest growth is now among young adults aged 15 to 24, where one in five listens to a podcast every week. No surprise then, that audio gear manufacturers are developing products aimed squarely at podcast producers. Leading the charge are RØDE, the Australian firm that has carved out quite a niche for itself among semi-pro audio and video types.
Take their Rodecaster Pro: this is a combined mixer, playback unit and stereo recorder – hybrid of a small radio-type desk with an audio interface. It has four mic channels, each with its own fader and XLR input, a pair of monitor outs and four headphone outs for contributors. It can also connect to a laptop and a mobile phone via cable connection or Bluetooth, allowing you to record phone or Skype interviews (when using a TTRS cable with the phone) or play in external audio. There’s a small raft of onboard effects for each channel, including a compressor and Aphex Aural Exciter. The unit has a colour LCD panel that displays settings for each mic channel, as well as level meters. The effects can be controlled here, even as you record. If you want to use it as an all-in-one box, you can record to a micro SD card. This is limited to stereo only, so there’s no scope of changing the mix, but it might suit some users. Alternatively, you can record externally to a laptop. Earlier this year RØDE updated the Rodecaster Pro software to allow multi-track recording in this mode, which adds an extra layer of flexibility.
Rodecaster Pro: n Class A Servo-biased preamps n Aphex audio processors n Multiple recording options RRP: $599 PodMic: n Designed as the ‘ultimate’ podcasting mic n Matches with the RØDE PSA1 boom arm RRP: $99 www.rode.com The Rodecaster Pro has another trick up its sleeve: the ability to play in audio clips or music via eight large buttons – like a playout system in a radio station. These come preset with comedy sound effects but you can load your own audio via a laptop. You could add music tracks or, thinking as a former radio newshound – even premixed packages. Just stab the rubbery coloured button and away it goes into the mix. There’s no way to actually stop the audio once it’s started and no timer to show how long it has to play but it’s still a useful tool (could these features be made possible through a
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PRODUCT REVIEW “It’s got the usual RØDE quality and smart design, and could be just what people need to kickstart a successful podcast career”
firmware update?). In use, it will feel familiar to anyone with any previous radio experience but still easy enough to adapt to for those without. The whole unit has a really solid feel to it, which is the norm for RØDE gear, and it earns the Pro tag. RØDE are keen to market the Rodecaster alongside their PodMic – a dynamic studio mic with a cardioid pattern. The two are tailored to the point where the Rodecaster has a specific setting for the PodMic which, when selected, optimises the little console for the microphone.
It’s a hefty little beast, with an all metal construction and built in swivelling bracket. I do think the designers have styled it to look like a “traditional” radio mic – in the sense of it’s what podcasters might expect to find in a radio studio. Think Hollywood depictions of talk show hosts and you’ll know what I mean. That’s not a problem because it looks good, performs just as well and the build quality is extremely high. It is designed for one clear purpose (much like a radio studio mic) but that is also fine. The sound is deep and rich and well matched for the end use. It
certainly suited my voice, but then I started in radio when we all carried razor blades in our pockets. I think anyone stepping up from a cheaper budget microphone will notice the difference immediately. It has a built-in pop-shield and there’s nothing you can tweak on it (no filters, no pads) but then it’s not supposed to be for fiddling with. So, do the two items together work well and are they a good way to get set up for podcast production? I’d say that if you are a pure audio geek, there’s no need to switch from using your existing IO device and software. But if you want something that can do it all in one box, it’s certainly worth looking at. Obviously, cost is a factor but being able to play-in audio or jingles at the press of a button might be a real killer feature for some. I’d say it depends on the nature of the podcast – it definitely leans towards the “as-live” type of production. Either way, it’s got the usual RØDE quality and smart design, and could be just what people need to kickstart a successful podcast career. ■
The Reviewer Jerry Ibbotson has worked in pro-audio for more than 20 years, first as a BBC radio journalist and then as a sound designer in the games industry. He’s now a freelance audio producer and writer.
July | August 2019
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GENELEC AURAL ID Stephen Bennett gets scientific with Genelec’s new headphone monitoring technology...
everal companies have developed Digital Signal Processing (DSP) solutions in an attempt to present a ‘flat’ frequency playback response when using headphones. Most of these either create generic EQ solutions for specific headphones or, in some cases, you can send off your own headphones for a bespoke analysis and correction profile to be generated and loaded into the company’s software plug-in. What these solutions cannot do, of course, is compensate for the shape and size of the ears and the head– all of which will have significant impact on
the effective frequency and dynamic response of the headphones. Genelec, a company renowned for their high-end active monitor speakers, has taken a different approach to the problem. Using the technique of photogrammetry, a detailed 3D representation is acquired of the engineers’ upper body, head and ears. These images and videos are then uploaded to the Genelec site, a fee paid, and an AES-standard Spatially Oriented Format for Acoustics (sofa) file generated. This is then loaded into a .sofa-compatible plug-in, inserted on the master output of a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), or stand-alone audio software to ‘correct’ the audio playback.
Key Features n Enables an audio engine to precisely render stereo, surround or immersive content via headphones n Calculates a user’s Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF) which can then be integrated into a DAW via plug-ins RRP: €500 + VAT www.genelec.com
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The profile itself consists of a personal HeadRelated Impulse Response (HRIR) – which is a time domain element – and a Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF) that covers the frequency domain. These two elements describe how the audio travels to your ear. Sound reaching the ear from a monitor in a room is a complex mixture of phase and time-domain related information; frequency and volume damping and enhancement and other reflective properties, including head and ear shape and the density of the listener’s head and body. All this information is relevant when we try and place audio in stereo positions or at the ‘phantom’ centre in a stereo recording. When using headphones, a lot of this information is lost, which is why mixing on these devices doesn’t always translate well to loudspeakers in various listening environments. Genelec’s Aural ID attempts to compensate for these deficiencies in a bespoke fashion. Designed to be used on any typical headphone, the Aural ID profile can be easily moved across DAW and computer platforms. The Aural ID manual contains precise information on how to capture the required video and image files for processing, alongside some useful information on the technical and acoustic rationale behind the software. You’ll need a friend to do the filming, a tape measure and a space about 3m square that is well-lit and without any sources of high intensity light, such as the sun coming through a window. The manual suggests some other tips that will help you get the best results and the whole process takes about four minutes. The process consists of your friend moving round you in a circle then coming in close to film your ears at various angles and distances to capture the information required to build up an accurate 3D representation of your ears, head and upper body. Genelec provide video tutorials and the process was extremely simple in practice. The hardest part for myself was keeping still for that long! The next part of the process is to grab a couple of images of each ear with a tape measure
placed alongside for size reference. Once you have this information, the data is uploaded to the Genelec website for processing. Delivery time for the .sofa file is about two days as Genelec say the processing required is significant and they check each submission for errors. Once the .sofa file has been downloaded from the Genelec server it can be used in the DAW of your choice. The file can be loaded into any plug-in or program that accepts .sofa files and Genelec suggest a few, so I used the Noise Makers AMBI HEAD AU plug-in with Apple’s Logic Pro X. The Aural ID file doesn’t allow you to manipulate any parameters, though the plug-in itself does. Loading the .sofa file into AMBI HEAD was a matter of drag and drop and, of course, the effects of the Aural ID data file can be demonstrated by muting the plug-in itself. With my current headphone-correction software, I mostly use a pair of BeyerDynamics DT990 with a bespoke correction profile, so I initially tried Aural ID with these ‘phones. The difference between processed and unprocessed audio is marked and it makes you realise how ‘closed in’ headphones can sound. Aural ID adds directional and special information making it easier to place sounds in the stereo image, including the all-important ‘phantom centre’ image that’s so hard to get right on headphones. I performed extensive mixing comparisons between Aural ID, a DSP-based headphone correction plug-in, and the headphones with no correction at all. The latter process, as usual, generated mixes that worked in some locations and not others. The DSP-based solution has helped me produce some excellent mixes that translate very well from speaker to headphone and system to system in the past. The ‘sound’ of the aural ID processing is very different to the DSP solution I use, having more of a sense of ‘room’ and ‘air’. One of the unexpected results of this is that listening to audio via Aural ID is extremely comfortable and I found that I could work for longer and at higher levels than with the
other workflows. Mixes generated via Aural ID were excellent and it often felt like I was working in a welltreated room with excellent monitoring. Making lowfrequency decisions is often difficult on headphones, but the results via Genelec’s software were extremely positive. Moving over to my DT150s was interesting as these are closed-back ‘phones and sound very different to the 990s yet, when Aural ID was instanced, many of these differences disappeared. I’ve not found a solution that would allow me to use closed-backed headphones which are excellent in noisy environments, so this was an unexpected bonus. Genelec’s Aural ID could be a life-saver for those working in stereo, surround or immersive formats, as it allows you to easily take a familiar monitoring system with you wherever you go. I’d like to see Genelec offer their own .sofa file compatible plug-in alongside the Aural ID processed file though, as I did have some problems getting the third-party software to work (nothing to do with Genelec’s software I might add!). As more and more music lovers turn to headphones, I can also see how beneficial Aural ID would be on a listener’s computer, personal music player or phone – or even embedded in headphone amplification itself. It’s early days for these technologies and I await further developments with great interest. A pair of Genelec headphones with built in .sofa file processing would also be something to look forward to! ■
The Reviewer Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich, he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing at the UEA.
July | August 2019
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PRO SPOTLIGHT In each issue of AMI we feature an audio professional from a range of disciplines to find out how they got started in the industry and what they’ve worked on. This month we speak to film composer/mixer Jason Soudah, who has recently made his mark on a number of big Hollywood movies... What do you do? I am a composer, vocalist, songwriter, mix engineer and producer, but my main job is composer, primarily for film and TV. How did you get into the industry? A singer-songwriter friend, Alex Vargas, was here in LA from London, and invited me out for a drink. Alex and I were joined by his friend Zoe, who later on asked me what I did. I said I was a singer-songwriter, but that I would love to be a composer. Zoe asked very composerspecific questions, so I asked her why. “My dad’s a composer,” she replied. She offered to show us her dad’s studio and I was super excited - I love studios! We got there maybe around 2am, went inside, and Zoe asked the security guard permission to show us her dad’s room. We entered into this large and amazing, loungelike writing room, with lots of sofas, a grand piano, a huge wall of moog, lots of guitars, computer screens, racks of equipment, movie memorabilia, books, art…I asked, “who’s your dad?” Zoe replied, “Hans Zimmer.” My mind was blown. She offered to introduce me to the studio manager to see about me interning. I went on to intern at Remote Control Productions, which led to me being hired by composer Matthew Margeson, as his technical assistant. Matt took me under his wing, helped me to develop my scoring skills, and he continues to mentor me to this day. I am so thankful to Zoe for giving me this extraordinary opportunity. What are some of your credits? As writer/arranger of “additional music”: Kingsman: The Golden Circle and The Secret Service, Rings, Wrecked (TV Series), and Eddie the Eagle (including
writing song “A Sporting Chance”). As composer: Followed, Whaling, The Daugherty Gang, Paradise Reef: The World Is Watching, Come In… What is your favourite item of audio gear and why? Sonarworks Reference 4 plugin, because I couldn’t deliver the goods in my studio efficiently without it. I am currently working from a barely-treated home studio, and this plugin effectively flattens the frequency response, massively helping my mixes translate! My clients are always happy with my sound. I also use Reference 4 when mixing on headphones, and when I go back to my monitors, I usually only have to do tiny tweaks, if anything. Could you tell us a little about your signal flow and working methods? I work mostly in Cubase on an Apple Mac Pro 2013. My audio interface is a UAD Apollo 8. I use Avid Pro Tools Ultimate HD (running on the same computer sharing the interface) for hosting video and printed mixes, for some music editing and eventually for delivering sessions. I also have two Vienna Ensemble Pro servers, for hosting my composing template, which are routed via ethernet into my Cubase template. I monitor everything through two Reference 4 plugins which I have on two auxes in Pro Tools - one for my front stereo speakers, KRK V8s, and one for my rear stereo speakers, also KRK, since I work in 4.0 surround. What are some of the challenges that you face in your job? The biggest challenge is turnaround time. Clients are tending to want their music bigger and better
produced, with increasingly quick turnarounds. Also, sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board and you must take this in your stride, never get defensive, and always be happy to keep trying. What was your favourite project and why? Eddie the Eagle. I love 80s music, so it was so fun using the Korg M1 again (it was my first pro keyboard) and some other classics like the Yamaha DX-7 and Roland D-50 as well as Jupiters, Linn Drums and other drum machine sounds. What industry professional inspired you the most to do what you do? Hans Zimmer. I remember reading in a magazine like this that he used Cubase (as did I) and that he didn’t read music super well when he started, and that he relied on programming to compose. I was so inspired to know that it was possible to be a composer and to have come at it from where he did, from the record and production world (like me), and to become one of the most successful and groundbreaking composers of all time. I am not saying that what I do is even close to comparable, but knowing this about him made me think even I could try. What’s the best bit of advice that you can give anyone trying to break into the industry? Keep going, keep smiling, and try to help others along the way. If you can open a door for someone, or get someone onto a project, then do it, as that’s how most of us get our chances in life, from someone else paying it forward. ■
July | August 2019
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