HIGHLIGHTS 30 years of Cakewalk: Join Our Anniversary Celebration! Ripple Editing Comes to SONAR Microsoft’s Pen: Better Workflow? 30 Presets for Fabulous Filtering Tube-Tech, VocALign Reviews Mastering “Trigger” How to Record Ukulele …and more! A Cakewalk Publication
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04 Cakewalk’s Throwing a Year-Long Birthday Party—and You’re Invited! It’s Cakewalk’s 30th Anniversary—let’s celebrate
05 Overview: SONAR Update 2017.05 All the news on SONAR’s latest and greatest enhancements
06 Ripple Editing This much-requested feature means faster workflow and easier arranging
10 Cakewalk Adaptive Limiter An incredibly powerful dynamics processor does more than just limit
15 Microsoft Pen Support Yeah, it’s cool. But when you combine it with touch… 2
18 Piano Roll View (PRV) Enhancements Community input inspires another round of PRV tweaks
20 Fixes and Improvements The quest for unparalleled stability continues
22 Review of the Month: Softube Tube-Tech Classic Channel We’re pretty jaded about channel strip plug-ins…but then we heard this
27 Product Review: Synchro Arts VocALign Plug-Ins Thanks to ARA, these gems from Synchro Arts really shine
30 Anatomy of a SONAR Project: Mastering “Trigger” Bryan Ferry guitarist Jacob Quistgaard steps into the spotlight with his solo CD
37 How to Record Ukulele Some tasty licks from a ukulele might be exactly what your next project needs
41 You Mix, We Master Every month, we master a reader-submitted piece of music in SONAR
43 30 QuadCurve Presets for Fabulous Filtering Get a jump start on your mix with this free download of stellar presets
Cakewalk’s Throwing a Year-Long Birthday Party—and You’re Invited! May 2017 marks Cakewalk’s 30th Anniversary. Yes, time flies when you’re having fun, but it’s hard to believe that all of this started back in 1987. At the time Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” was a big hit, as was Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot.” “Dirty Dancing” hit the theaters, as did “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Spaceballs.” Clive Sinclair launched the Z88 portable computer, the first Starbucks opened, “The Simpsons” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” appeared on TV for the first time, and Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Meanwhile, Greg Hendershott had decided to take some software he’d worked on at Oberlin College and turn it into a real sequencer. Cakewalk—a name chosen when he found out the original name he’d planned to use for his MIDI sequencer was taken—was released for MS-DOS, and became so popular that before too long, Hendershott changed the name of the company from Twelve Tone Systems to Cakewalk. 30 years means a lot to us at Cakewalk. We’ve seen other companies come and go, and feel fortunate to still be here. Ultimately, though, the reason we’re still passionate about what we do is you—your support, your evangelizing on our behalf, and your suggestions for how we can make our products better. So we’re throwing a birthday party, and you’re invited! For the next 12 months, we’ll be surprising you in a variety of ways—including fun freebies, like this month’s collection of 30 QuadCurve patches starting on page 43. In addition to SONAR’s ongoing evolution as the leading DAW for Windows, we’ll also be introducing some exciting new products. And yes, there will be some specials happening from time to time…so stay tuned. We appreciate your support over the past 30 years, and we’re already looking forward to the next 30 years. Come join us!
SONAR Update 2017.05 Highlights of the latest SONAR update include:
Ripple editing – simplify rearranging song sections through enhanced cut, copy, paste, move, and delete editing gestures Adaptive Limiter (Professional and Platinum) – this exceptionally versatile dynamics processor isn’t only ideal for mastering and mixing, but also for MP3 conversion ARA compatibility with Synchro Arts’ VocALign Project and VocALign Pro – the world’s foremost voice and instrument sync processors are fully compatible with SONAR’s tight ARA integration Microsoft Pen support – now you can not only draw MIDI notes, but use pressure to create dynamics and modulation effects Enhanced Touch support – Pen support has also provided optimizations for the general touch experience Piano Roll View enhancements – You asked, we listened Improvements and bug fixes – and of course, SONAR just keeps getting better
INSTALLING THE 2017.05 UPDATE Open the Cakewalk Command Center. If you are prompted to download a newer version, please follow the on-screen instructions to download it. To download the SONAR 2017.05 core update, download from the core SONAR Artist, Professional, or Platinum category. This also updates TH3 for Artist and Professional versions; Platinum owners should update the Boutique FX Suite to update TH3. Professional and Platinum owners can download the Engineering FX Suite to obtain the new Adaptive Limiter, and Platinum owners should download the Platinum Instrument Collection for the updated version of Ultra Analog Session 2.
Ripple Editing Artist, Professional, Platinum Ripple Editing automatically moves content on the timeline after performing edits that add or remove time, thus completing some editing operations automatically. For example if you remove a section of a song, the “hole” that’s created closes up automatically so the beginning and ending of the cut section join together. Or, if you take the part you cut and paste it, the song will open up enough space to hold what you want to paste—it’s not necessary to open a space, and then paste. In a way, you can think of Ripple Editing as editing the timeline, and the Clips go along for the ride. (Note that Ripple Editing is designed to work in Track View, not the Piano Roll View.) In addition to being extremely useful when doing arrangements, this functionality is also great for assembling album song orders when mastering. You can move song clips around to try out different song orders, and the other songs will automatically open up to accommodate new song placement, while closing up where the clip used to be. There are two Ripple Editing options, chosen from the Track View options menu: Ripple Edit Selection, and Ripple Edit All. As examples, suppose you move a clip from measure 3 to measure 5. If Ripple Edit All is selected, all clips on all tracks after measure 3 will move two measures to the right. With Ripple Edit Selection chosen, only the clips on the track where you moved the clip will move two measures to the right. However, be aware of the power of Ripple Editing: If you have it selected, forget to turn it off, and want to cut something like the end of a clip, you might cause everything past the clip to move forward on the timeline. The best practice for ripple editing is to enable it when required to make an edit, but then turn it off after the edit is complete to avoid any unintended consequences. SONAR includes keyboard shortcuts to make this simple. Following are some examples of Ripple Edits for both Ripple Edit Selected and Ripple Edit All.
RIPPLE EDIT SELECTED In the following example, clips C+D in the left group have been copied. Placing the focus on Track 3, inserting the Now time at measure 8, and choosing Paste pastes C+D on Track 3, starting at the Now time, and pushes clips 11 + 12 to the right to make room.
Next, letâ€™s Cut clips F, G, J, and K from the above screen shot. See the resulting screen shot below; the clips to the right of G have shifted to the left starting where F had been, and the clips to the right of K have shifted to the left starting where J had been. (Note: View > Display > Display Clip Contents is unchecked so itâ€™s easier to visualize each clip as a solid block.)
Now move the H clip to the right by two measures. Everything in the track to the right of it—the blank measure and clips 6, 7, 8, and 9—also move to the right by two measures.
RIPPLE EDIT ALL Next, suppose you want to copy clips 2, 3, 6, 7, D, 11, 14, 15, 18, and 19—the measures in the middle of the right group above—and insert them at measure 2. Select the measures you want to insert, copy them, place the Now time at measure 2, choose Track 1 as the focus (i.e., the highest-numbered track of the selection), and Paste. The screen shot below shows the result.
It’s also easy to delete “holes,” and you no longer need data in the hole to make this happen. If nothing is selected and you drag across the timeline to define the region (e.g., measure 5 in the screen shot below), this automatically selects All tracks. Hit delete, and the group of clips on the right below will move over to the left so clip 1 is to the immediate right of D, clip 5 is to the immediate right of H, etc.
Furthermore with Ripple Edit Selected, if one or more tracks are selected the hole will be removed only for those selected tracks.
MIDI NOTES AND CLIPS Here’s how MIDI notes and clips react to Ripple Editing.
If a MIDI clip does not overlap the region to be edited (cut, pasted, whatever), MIDI clips and notes will move as expected. Ripple Editing splits MIDI clips automatically, so you don't need to split manually. Notes whose duration extends into the ripple area will be truncated (i.e., the same behavior as if you split a MIDI clip without ripple editing). This is also the case if the same note extends past the ripple area. Notes that start in the ripple area (in particular delete) will be removed.
MORE ONLINE! Stay tuned to the Cakewalk YouTube channel for videos about Ripple Editing.
Cakewalk Adaptive Limiter Professional, Platinum
Although there’s no shortage of limiters, the VST3 Adaptive Limiter included in SONAR Platinum and Professional has a toolset that’s tailor-made for superior mastering—try it once, and you’ll be hooked. It’s also fantastic for individual tracks. Following are a few of the highlights that explain why the Adaptive Limiter (AL for short) is such a useful mastering limiter. For more information, click on the UI and type F1 (or select “Documentation” under the System settings) to see the complete documentation. Note: The AL requires OpenGL version 4.5 or higher.
MASTERING TOOLS We’ll start by looking at the specialized tools that make a mastering engineer’s life better, then proceed to the artistic advantages of the Adaptive Limiter. Match Loudness. With the AL bypassed, Match Loudness matches the bypassed level to the processed level. This lets you hear the effect limiting has on the original signal, without having to compensate mentally for the limited version sounding “better” simply because it’s louder.
MP3 Codec Preview. When exporting to MP3, Codec Preview lets you hear what the file will sound like at encoding rates from 64 to 320 kbps—without needing to export, and then audition, the exported file. You can also choose to hear only the audio that will be removed during the MP3 encoding process by clicking on the Artifacts button—this is pretty educational, and very useful. Note that the on/off buttons for the MP3 Preview and MP3 Artifacts functions are red when on, to remind you that these should be turned off prior to doing any bouncing. Dither and bit depth control. Whether the target media is 24, 20, 16, 12, or 8 bits, you’re covered— along with five dithering algorithms to optimize audio for lower bit resolutions than the source audio. Extensive metering. The metering features K-System weighting (which is more about perceived loudness and dynamic range instead of just peak levels), as well as traditional metering that displays peak and average values over four possible meter ranges. Add a running histogram that displays a running history of the RMS level over time, and you’ll know exactly what’s going on with your output signal, input signal, and amount of gain reduction. Visual analytics. The Wave display superimposes the output signal level on the input level, with additional visuals indicating the amount of gain reduction. What’s more, an overall curve shows LUFS (Loudness Units, referenced to Full Scale), and is compliant with the ITU-R BS.1770-4 broadcast standard used by the International Telecommunication Union to measure average audio program loudness. Parallel limiting. Another Expert mode feature lets you adjust the mix continuously for parallel limiting, from dry only to limited only. This is excellent for blending peaks in with an overall compressed sound. Adjustable lookahead. Lookahead allows the Adaptive Limiter to anticipate peaks so they can be processed as soon as they hit (without lookahead, a limiter can process a peak only after it recognizes that a peak has occurred). Longer lookaheads give more precise limiting, but increase latency. With lookahead variable from 1.5 to 10 ms in four stages (Minimum, Low, Medium, and High), you can choose a faster lookahead when tracking or overdubbing, then increase lookahead while mixing, where latency is less of an issue.
DAC output modeling. The Adaptive Limiter uses a 16x oversampled interpolation mechanism that detects whether there are peaks in between samples that could cause distortion. Conventional limiter metering usually doesn’t catch these “overs,” but you needn’t worry about intersample distortion when using the Adaptive Limiter.
ARTISTIC TOOLS In addition to precision mastering tools, the Adaptive Limiter offers four different “characters” that determine attack characteristics, with DSP-controlled envelope smoothing, up until the start of the release stage. You can further adjust the attack and decay controls manually to tailor the dynamics controls to specific audio signals. The four characters are: Adaptive. This is the most universally applicable and transparent character. It uses a soft knee curve and a logarithmic envelope to provide a smooth transition as a signal goes into limiting, and adapts the release time to the program material. Aggressive. When you want maximum loudness with a forceful character, this is the ticket. The aggressive character uses hard knee limiting and a linear envelope. Dynamic. A signal’s initial transients provide punch and clarity. Limiting and compression tend to reduce the effect of transients, although you can compensate somewhat with the Attack control (more attack time lets through more transients). The dynamic character’s transient enhance stage preserve the original punch and clarity, even with fairly heavy limiting. Pumping. This models the sound of older, vintage limiters where you could hear the limiter “working” as it controlled dynamics. It’s popular on drums to give a “feel” of pushing and squeezing, but some engineers like a bit of pumping on masters to give a more “old school,” vintage type of sound.
PRESET MANAGEMENT The Adaptive Equalizer has the same kind of preset management as the L-Phase EQ and L-Phase Multiband, and stores presets in the Cakewalk Content folder. You can select, load, and save presets, create folders for preset organization, and use the Arrow keys to navigate through a string of presets. It’s also possibly to edit a preset (name, folder, or description) by rightclicking on the preset name.
TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
You don’t have to choose one limiting “character” and stick with it, especially over the course of an album. A faster song might sound best with the Aggressive character, while a ballad could work best with the Adaptive character. Bass is often compressed to even out dynamic variations. This can be important to compensate for playback systems that have low end response anomalies, and because human hearing is less sensitive to the bass frequencies. Limiting can provide the same benefits as compression, but with a more transparent sound that has less evidence of dynamics control. Try limiting to bring up the room sound with drums. Although compression can also do this, the Adaptive Limiter’s Dynamic character will bring up the room sound while having minimal impact on the drum’s punch and clarity. Because not all singers have perfect mic technique, compression can even out volume variations. However, applying enough compression to even out all these variations can add “pumping” and artifacts. Using limiting (with the Adaptive character) to tame the biggest peaks means you won’t need as much compression to accomplish the same results, which gives a more transparent vocal sound. For a given level, choosing different Adaptive Limiter characters for percussion tracks (tambourine, congas, hand drums, talking drums, maracas, etc.) can place the sound differently in the mix. To make the percussion more prominent, use the Aggressive or Dynamic characters. To place the percussion more “behind” the mix, use the Adaptive or Pumping characters.
CONCRETE LIMITER VS. ADAPTIVE LIMITER The Concrete Limiter ProChannel plug-in has been very well-received, and amassed quite a following—so you might wonder when to use one or the other. Although there are many differences, the Adaptive Limiter has more options, and is much better suited to mastering due to the different characters, analytics, and metering. The Concrete Limiter is more of a traditional processor; it takes less CPU power, and is super-easy to set up. It also has the unique Bass switch which is amazing for EDM and drums where you really want the bass to pound; the Adaptive Limiter is more about accuracy. Overall, having one does not preclude or replace the other—they’re different limiters, for different tasks.
Microsoft Pen Support Artist, Professional, Platinum In the beginning…there was the keyboard. Next came keyboard shortcuts, the mouse, hardware controllers, and touch. All of these have strengths and limitations as a user interface, so using a combination of these tools provides the most flexibility as well as a tactile experience. And now, SONAR has added Pen support. Designed for Microsoft’s Surface computers, the Microsoft Pen provides a simple, natural way to interact very precisely with compatible touch-sensitive screens and tablets, and offers more sophisticated performance than simply using a traditional stylus. Adapting to the Pen isn’t difficult because it works much like a mouse—you can hover, pen down or up is like pushing or releasing the mouse button, and the pen button click is similar to a right-click. You can also use the pen in conjunction with keyboard shortcuts, like holding down Ctrl and tapping clips with the pen tip to select them. In addition, some pens have an Eraser or Erase button that can delete data in the Piano Roll View. For other views, you can use the Pen to select, and the keyboard’s Delete key to delete data like automation nodes, clips, PRV notes, and the like. There’s basic Pen support throughout the app, like drawing automation, “painting” step sequencer rows, moving/cropping/fading/stretching clips, resizing track strips, crossfading, and comping. However for this release, SONAR adds enhanced Pen support for the MIDI Piano Roll View. This can speed up workflow tremendously, especially when combined with touch and keyboard shortcuts.
Use Pen pressure to enter velocity while drawing a note. When a continuous controller is selected in the Controller pane, then you can enter controller data by using pressure when drawing a note. The Pen for the Surface 4 and 5 has an eraser at the top of the Pen--touch the screen with it to erase a note, or wipe the eraser across the screen to delete multiple notes. You can open context menus by holding the Pen’s side button (the rightclick button) and tapping on the screen. However, note that what you can or cannot do will depend on the device with which you’re using the pen, and the pen itself.
GETTING PENNED Note that there are three kinds of pens.
The least expensive types are capacitive pens with a rubberized tip that serves as a touch point. They don’t need to connect via Bluetooth; they work like touch, but generally give greater precision than using your finger. “Digitizer” pens, like the Wacom and N-Trig types, also do not require Bluetooth and they “just work.” However, they are typically shipped with devices and work only with those devices. Bluetooth pens, which need to be paired with the operating system. These are the most expensive and sophisticated pen types.
SONAR uses the standard Windows pen API (Application Programming Interface), so any pen that is fully supported by Windows 10 or earlier should be compatible. Note that you don’t necessarily need a touch screen for use with the pen; you can also use devices like Wacom tablets that are designed for drawing. If you plan to use the pen with a touch screen, check for compatibility. The current Pen is on version 4, and supports the Surface 3, Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book. The older, two-button version (right-click and eraser) works with the Surface 3, Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, Surface Book, Surface Book with Performance Base, and Surface Studio. Wacom pens work with earlier computers, various touchscreens, and so on. Some pens allow for customization, like adjusting pressure sensitivity; some touch screens will work with pressure while others won’t. Before buying any pen, “ask the internet” to find what will work best with your system.
PEN IN THE REAL WORLD So does using a Pen really make a difference in terms of workflow? We asked Cakewalk’s Bob Currie, who had a lot to do with the PRV re-design and has been testing the Pen extensively in his projects, for his thoughts. “I admit that I was doubtful that I'd really be using the Pen and Surface Pro 4 with SONAR in my real-world project work. It seemed cool, but I considered it to still be a step behind in terms of 16
workflow and ease/speed of editing. (I do use the Surface Pro 4 with Corel Painter, which by the way is fantastic). However once the bulk of the pen features were integrated with SONAR's Piano Roll View, I changed my tune. Now I'm really excited about the prospects of using the Pen, and I think I'll very likely be using it in my project work. “My first inclination was to hold my hand away from screen and make contact only with the tip (bad-click paranoia). However when you do that, the pen slips and becomes inaccurate. Fortunately, once I realized how good the palm rejection is on the Surface Pro, I became a lot more comfortable. I have a hunch that many users will have to get past this step before they too feel comfortable. “I like the direction Cakewalk is heading in with managing the integration between Touch and Pen—having the Pen do the drawing, erasing and detailed manipulations, while leaving the page adjustment (pan and zoom) to Touch. Both methods can click on UI buttons and the like. I don't know if having Touch be the primary method of making page adjustments is the Microsoft standard, but I think it feels very natural and real-world. If I were drawing on a real piece of paper, I wouldn't use the pen to slide or turn the paper to different angles—I'd use my fingers. Similarly, I find I never use the Pen to manipulate the scrollbars or zoom panners in SONAR. “Overall the experience is surprisingly positive. I think with some new, pen-centric features, this could be a real game-changer for SONAR and for music-making—similar to what it's done for the graphical arts.”
MORE ONLINE! The Pen is one of Windows 10’s many new features of interest to pro audio uses. Noel Borthwick gave a Tech Talk at Microsoft recently regarding SONAR and Windows 10, which now offers Bluetooth MIDI support, low-latency audio with WASAPI, Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C audio support, a built-in USB Audio Class 2 driver, and Pen / touch / and Dial support. In a video of the session, Noel demos the Pen but also shows Bluetooth MIDI, running at a WASAPI latency of less than 10 msec. Even 20 feet away from the stage, a Korg Nanostudio remained responsive. There’s an additional short video where Noel demos the Pen and Surface Dial with SONAR.
Piano Roll View (PRV) Enhancements Artist, Professional, Platinum
The recent PRV updates have been very popular (and yes, we have to admit we really like the Transform Tool too). But you had some ideas of how we could make it even better, soâ€¦
KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS The Keyboard Shortcuts in Preferences > Customization > Keyboard Shortcuts have been updated to reflect the new options in the Piano Roll View, as well as re-connected to some previous functionality. There are now shortcuts for Auto Lock On/Off, Filter On/Off, Select All Tracks, Clear Track Selection, Invert Track Selection, and Focus Previous/Next Track.
FILTER SELECTION IMPROVEMENTS
Enhanced Filter from Selection. To add selected Piano Roll View tracks for filtering at any time, right-click the selected track(s) and choose “Add Selected Tracks to Filter.” Create Filter from Selection. Create a filter quickly from selected tracks by right-clicking the selected track(s), and then selecting “New Filter from Selection.”
TRACK SELECTION AND MENU OPTIONS
Right-click on a track number to show new track selection options in the Track pane to Select All Tracks, Clear Track Selection, and Invert Track Selection. The Tracks menu is back, with commands for Select All Tracks, Clear Track Selection, Invert Track Selection, and Focus Previous/Next Track.
The Controller pane now supports scrolling for tracks that have more controller types than can be displayed in single lane. The Transform tool has added tooltips for better usability.
Fixes and Improvements Artist, Professional, Platinum General Enhanced Touch support for zooming, scrolling and resizing of Track / Piano Roll view Enhanced Touch support for resizing MultiDock, Browser, and Inspector in the Skylight interface New installs of SONAR will now have real-time dithering turned Off by default. If you are using the real-time dithering in the Adaptive Limiter, we recommend turning this setting off in Preferences | Playback and Recording Using the FX Assignable Controls for some VST3 audio plugins could previously change the wrong parameter Track View Clicking between two markers above the timeline will now create a timeline selection between both markers The Bus pane Expand / Collapse button has an updated look to match the PRV Controller pane Expand / Collapse button Clip separations are now easier to see in Folder tracks’ Piano Roll View Resolved an issue where the PRV / Keys and Grid could become misaligned Vertical Nudge no longer allows for notes in the PRV to be moved to a different track unexpectedly PRV | View | Show Multiple Lanes setting is now remembered on project save and reload Resolved a possible crash when drawing in the Controller pane on non-English installs of SONAR Auto Track Zoom in the Track View no longer interferes with selection in Track Pane Track pane Filter is no longer disabled when enabling Show Audio Tracks Enabling Show Audio Tracks with a Filter enabled, previously didn’t always show the audio tracks contained in the Filter properly Controller type label draws correctly when resizing to very small dimensions Tracks are no longer hidden from the Track pane when collapsing a folder in the Track view Aim Assist is now always cleared when moving the mouse outside of the view Shift + C to adjust the Control Bar height is no longer grabbed to show / hide Controller pane Resolved an issue where some FIlter menu items could be unintentionally grayed out Using the Up / Down arrow keys in the Track Pane to focus tracks will now wrap around like it does in the Track View Transform Tool no longer changes selection size unexpectedly when using it with AutoFocus
Keyboard Shortcuts Screensets are now available in the Global Bindings list in Keyboard Shortcuts Third Party Plug-Ins TH3 has been updated in the Boutique suite for Platinum, as well as the core installers for Professional and Artist. This update supports changes the plug-in locking for SONAR and prevents the plug-in from going into demo mode for new versions of SONAR Ultra Analog Session 2 has been updated in the Platinum Instruments Collection. It includes various fixes for stability The Melodyne | Follow Host Tempo command now works properly
Review of the Month: Softube Tube-Tech Classic Channel By Craig Anderton
If you’ve used Softube plug-ins, then you know the company does really great work. But superficially, the Tube-Tech Classic Channel may seem like “just another channel strip” plugin—after all, between the SONAR ProChannel, Waves, Universal Audio, and several other companies, doesn’t the world have enough channel strips?
Settings used for a recent mastering project
Well, the Tube-Tech Classic Channel is not your standard channel strip. Fortunately there’s a 20-day, fully functional demo so you can find out the details for yourself. But before you take the time to download and learn the plug-in, some background info might be helpful so you can decide whether this is something that interests you. 22
ONCE UPON A TIME… The Tube-Tech Classic Channel emulates passive circuitry, which is significant. I did a lot of studio work in the 60s and 70s, and passive circuitry was common. It wasn’t until 1972 that George Massenburg presented a paper to the AES on active parametric EQ, which has become the de facto standard for most channel strips. But back in the day, I always loved the hardware Pultec equalizers that were in just about every studio because of their gentle, sweet toneshaping character. This wasn’t by accident; the Pultecs had some clever circuitry tweaks not found in other processors. Passive and active circuitry are quite different. Passive doesn’t have gain (other than makeup gain to compensate for the losses that occur through passive circuitry) nor does it have internal feedback. By applying gain, active circuitry allows for narrow as well as broad boosts and cuts. The components used are different as well—passive EQ circuits often used inductors, which produce a certain warmth due to midrange “ringing.” And even if they didn’t use inductors, studio hardware processors of that era often incorporated audio transformers, which are complex signal processors whose sonic characteristics many people find pleasing. (Cakewalk’s Console Emulators emulate transformer-based circuits; for example if you turn up the Trim and Drive controls with bass, you’ll hear a certain “fatness” to the sound.) Compressors in the 60s didn’t use VCAs, but a variety of technologies. One of the most popular used an opto-isolator (a photo-resistor in combination with a light) as a gain control element, because the inherent lag time softened attacks and decays. Furthermore, photoresistors have a very different (and very low) type of distortion compared to the multiplier circuits used in simple VCAs. Also note that all the units emulated in the Classic Channel were based on tubes, so you can alter the sound subtly by running audio through them “flat.” That’s enough background. Suffice it to say the sound of these passive processors was drilled into my brain over many hours in the studio—and now, I have that sound in virtual form.
WHAT’S IN A STRIP? The Classic Channel has three modules. Despite the somewhat unorthodox front panel control arrangement (and note that when attenuating, you turn up the attenuation control), it may seem the functionality is obvious by looking at them—but that’s not the case. PE 1C Equalizer. This basically is the original Pultec equalizer. Although there’s only one Low Frequency selector, the Boost and Attenuator filter frequencies are tuned differently. Giving a boost while dialing in a little attenuation produces a high-frequency dip that’s a little higher in frequency than the boost’s peak frequency. With drums, bass, and even vocals, this gives depth but helps avoid muddiness.
There are two different high frequency sections. The High Frequency stepped control chooses among 10 different frequencies from 1 kHz to 15 kHz, with an associated Boost and Bandwidth control. The main attribute here is the “sweetness” of the highs when boosting—you can add a lot of highs without “screechiness.” The Bandwidth isn’t as surgical as active filters; think of the “Sharp” setting as more of a “Not Really All that Broad” setting. Meanwhile, the Attenuation section affects only those frequencies chosen by the Attenuation Select knob, with the options of 5, 10, or 20 kHz. Note that with all these calibrations, you don’t want to take the panel settings too seriously. For example, you might think making changes at 20 Hz or 20 kHz won’t make much difference, but remember these were passive filters with broad rolloffs. There’s really nothing quite like the PE 1C for processing the high and low frequencies; think of it as overachieving shelving EQ. ME 1B Equalizer. This has three “bell” filter responses to handle the midrange. The High and Low Frequency sections are pretty straightforward—choose a frequency, and then the amount of boost.
These settings were used on vocals—the Classic Channel is good for much more than just program material.
The Mid Frequency section is where it gets interesting, because it only attenuates and the greater the attenuation, the narrower the Q. This has a very natural feel—if you just need a bit of a tweak, the Q is low but if you really need to make a difference, the Q increases. Although both the PE 1C and ME 1B may seem somewhat “incomplete” by themselves, combine the two and you end up with powerful, general-purpose EQ. 24
CL 1B Compressor. The main difference compared to other “channel strip” compressors is the modeling of the opto-isolator-based circuitry, however the CL 1B is not alone—for example, Cakewalk’s CA-2A is a stellar compressor that models the same kind of circuitry. So do they sound exactly the same? Although there are similarities, any differences become more pronounced at more extreme settings. This gets into wine-tasting territory but as you go from lesser to greater amounts of compression, the CL 1B sounds more “obvious,” while the CA-2A seems more consistent. Both have their uses. However, the CL 1B’s sound also depends greatly on its “secret sauce”—the Attack/Release Select control. This selects among fixed and relatively fast attack and release times, attack and release times set by associated controls, or both. The latter position is noteworthy because you can combine the fixed and manual time constants to create a variety of program materialdependent responses. For example, the Attack time control can influence when the release time kicks in. Other notes. Additional features include sidechaining for the Compressor (note that you can’t use the included EQs to process the sidechain signal), individual bypass switches for each module to conserve on CPU, Output Gain controls that weren’t available on the original hardware (good for gain-staging), and switchable EQ position (before or after EQ). In terms of limitations, the GUI is faithful to the hardware but takes up a lot of space. I could cope with horizontal sliders and a smaller footprint…but given how many people listen with their eyes instead of their ears, I understand why Softube decided to go for the full-on skeuomorphic approach.
SO IS IT WORTH IT? Try the demo, and you’ll find out for yourself whether this is something you want to add to your sonic arsenal; in the course of my projects, I find a lot of compelling reasons to reach for the Classic Channel. One is speed, because it seems like it doesn’t take a lot of tweaking to get the sound I want. Another is the “different” nature of the Classic Channel. Because it’s not a conventional, “modern” equalizer, it invites you to think in different ways, which can be beneficial. But the overriding characteristic to me is the accuracy with which it emulates the passive, analog hardware of my youth. Although I don’t always want that sound, the Classic Channel is wonderful for a wide variety of applications. I love the PE 1C EQ when masters need to have that particular “analog” character along with shimmering highs, and the PE 1C > ME 1B > CL 1B combination is really potent for vocals (I find it particularly useful for preserving silkiness with female vocals). For my rock vocals I still like a Concrete Limiter > CA-2A > QuadCurve chain because I can push it really hard, but when I need a sweeter, more detailed sound, the Classic Channel gets the nod. The Classic Channel is also excellent with acoustic guitar, percussion, and most drum sounds. I didn’t get a chance to try it with real brass and strings, but sampled versions sounded fine. 25
So to answer my original question…yes, there are plenty of channel strips, but the Classic Channel brings something different to the party. It’s not another “me-too” channel strip based on famous consoles, but something that pays tribute to one of my absolute favorite sounds from the past, while bringing it into a format I can use (and afford) today. (Note: The Softube Classic Channel is available in the Cakewalk store during June at 50% of the usual price.)
Product Review: Synchro Arts VocALign By Craig Anderton
For the May SONAR release, Cakewalk collaborated with Synchro Arts to bring SONAR’s ARA integration to VocALign Project and VocALign PRO. VocALign syncs audio together, whether for musical projects or audio-for-video applications. If you need to tighten background vocals or musical instruments, or sync looped dialog to dialog recorded in the field, Synchro Arts has been recognized for years as the leader in audio synchronization.
VOCALSYNC AND VOCALIGN SONAR Platinum includes VocalSync, which is an inexpensive solution for those with relatively simple vocal synchronization needs. However it cannot be added to SONAR Professional or Artist, and is not designed for use with musical instruments (only vocals). For those with demanding vocal synchronization applications, VocALign incorporates over two decades of experience refining the algorithms that provide the multifaceted analysis needed for tight, accurate synchronization.
TWO VOCALIGN FLAVORS There are two VocALign versions. VocALign Project (available from the Cakewalk store) is the more basic of the two, but nonetheless provides the analysis needed for quality audio synchronization. VocALign PRO ($399) enhances the basic operation with increased alignment accuracy. There’s even a way to protect certain areas of a file from alignment, which is important when trying to do dialog replacement with a language other than the one used for the original dialog. You can try either (or both) versions of VocALign free for 14 days; note that both use iLok copy protection, so you’ll need an iLok USB dongle (although the Project version can also key to your hard drive). 27
HOW VOCALIGN WORKS Like VocalSync, VocALign takes advantage of SONAR’s tight ARA integration, and synchronizes a Dub track to a Guide track. VocALign works as a Region FX, so you can ctrl+click the Guide and Dub clips—or even ctrl+click additional Dub clips, which is exceptionally useful when you want to tighten something like multi-miked drums. Although an instance of VocALign will open for each clip, these load behind one another and unless you’re using multiple Dub clips, you need work only with the “front” instance. The next step is to process the audio, and then audition how well the process worked. If all is well, you can render the clip using the Region FX menu, or bounce the Dub clip to itself to make the edits permanent. If there are issues, undo, try again, and adjust the VocALign parameters to optimize the matching process.
SO…HOW EFFECTIVE IS VOCALIGN? I’ve been using VocalSync since it was introduced, and obtained good results with vocals. You do have to be sensitive to its needs, like working on relatively short pieces at a time, and using it only with vocals. There are also times when the algorithm simply doesn’t know quite what to do, which requires manual stretching. If you want to overcome these limitations, VocALign Project is a significant step up if for no other reason than it works with a wider variety of audio, and the algorithms are more refined. I experimented with synching rhythm guitar with drums, vocals to drums, and of course background vocals to vocals; everything worked very well, with minimum fuss. It can handle a maximum file length of 120 seconds. The “secret weapon” here is the ARA integration. Those who worked with pre-ARA Melodyne may remember the need to capture audio, process it, send it back to its source, etc. For 28
programs other than SONAR and Studio One, VocALign works similarly (in fact you can still use it “old school” style in SONAR if you want), but ARA makes everything much faster. Once more, the Region FX concept proves its worth. VocALign PRO builds on VocALign Project with options designed for hardcore pro applications, such as second generation time-alignment algorithms, the ability to handle up to 300 second files, synch point placement for forcing sync, the option to protect particular sections, and similar advanced features. It also has a basic mode that works like VocALign Project. Because both VocALign versions offer 14-day free trials and the manuals are available online, we don’t need to go into too much detail because you can decide which version best suits your needs. I think most SONAR users who need vocal sync but feel VocalSync isn’t sufficiently advanced will find that VocALign Project does all that’s needed, without having to incur the extra expense of VocALign PRO. However those with heavier-duty requirements, like problematic matching of video to field recordings (or who need to match foreign language overdubs to video) will find the extras in VocALign PRO worth the higher cost. In any event, SONAR users now have three options for audio synchronization—from basic, to advanced, to “I make my living from this stuff”…and tight ARA integration is the icing on the proverbial cake.
Anatomy of a SONAR Project: Mastering “Trigger” By Craig Anderton
Last Winter, at the aftershow get-together for a Bryan Ferry concert in Nashville, I met guitarist Jacob Quistgaard, aka Quist. I really enjoyed the concert—Ferry still has it after all these years— and particularly liked Quist’s playing, which was lyrical and innovative. We kept in touch and he mentioned his upcoming guitar-based, instrumental album called “Trigger.” I asked if he was interested in having me master it, because I was sure it would be a fun project. He was indeed interested, so I offered to master a couple test cuts and if he liked the results, then I’d do the mastering. (Yes, it’s the drug dealer’s “first one’s free, kids!” strategy.) He did, and the project began. Due to his being on the road and living in Los Angeles, this had to be done remotely. I prefer to be able to work with an artist in person, but that’s not always possible. Dropbox was his cloud solution of choice, and OneDrive was mine, so there were a lot of links exchanged.
GETTING STARTED Quist sent his files and fortunately, he didn’t use any processing on the master bus, and he also left a decent amount of headroom. But while he totally understood what made a file “mastering-friendly,” and the mixes were good, there were six engineers involved and the recording was done in London, Brighton, Paris, and Los Angeles. When the end product is an album as opposed to a series of singles, this kind of scenario is a mastering engineer’s nightmare because it makes sonic consistency a major challenge. Unlike albums recorded in a 30
single studio, where the same basic mastering approach will often work for all the cuts, this meant that every cut had to be treated as its own entity, requiring its own specific processing. For an album, my mastering process starts with loading all the mix files into SONAR, each on its own track. The next step is enabling Exclusive Solo, so I can A/B the various tracks and get a sense of the levels and dynamics. My first impression was that I didn’t need to use compression on any of the tracks; the only dynamics needed would be multi-band limiting to make sure all the tracks had the same overall dynamic range. However, EQ was another story—the tracks were, as one would expect, inconsistent. This required listening carefully to each track, and taking notes on the various differences. I then picked two tracks as the “standards” because they came closest to the sound I thought Quist would like. These would be EQed first, then the other tracks compared to them in order to meet the same standard. I also had an additional reference, which were the test tracks where Quist liked the mastering. I knew they would have to change to reflect the album’s overall sonics, but still, they provided a good benchmark.
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL… Quist was pretty much an ideal client. I loved the music, so it didn’t matter that I had to listen to it over and over and over (and over) again. He was receptive to different approaches, and was always direct and polite about whether something worked for him or not, as well as highly appreciative when he was particularly happy with the results. Because of that, I rapidly had a sense of the direction he wanted the music to take so despite being a remote job, it had a collaborative feel. The only real “directive” he provided at the beginning was that he wanted the guitars to be “in your face.” Being a guitar player, I knew what he meant. For EQ, I used Cakewalk’s L-Phase EQ for processing the upper mids, highs, and for mid-side processing. This took advantage of the clarity of linear-phase operation where it matters most. Cakewalk’s QuadCurve handled the lower frequencies. Although I could have added another instance of the L-Phase in non-linear mode, I have come to appreciate the different EQ curves offered by the QuadCurve, which simplified choosing the right curve for specific program material. The main curves I used were Hybrid and Pure. I’m old enough to have actually used Pultecs and always loved their natural, subtle quality for general tone-shaping; the Pure curve does that very well. The Hybrid was more for problem-solving, although the E-Type and G-Type curves had their uses too. Most of the EQ was general tone-shaping…reduced lower mids to avoid any mud, and a little extra brightness in the upper mids to bring out some of the guitar articulation and snare drum “snap.”
SONAR did the “heavy lifting” for tweaking EQ and dynamics with the various cuts However I also took full advantage of SONAR’s new Notes feature in the Browser, which has been one of my favorite update features. When mastering, I always send the client notes on what I did so they can listen for the changes and decide whether they’re happy with those changes or not. Here are all the notes for the cuts, which I thought might give some insights into the analysis that’s part of the mastering process. BE- Longing - I loved the reverb drums hits and how they punctuated the composition, so I brought those out. The low end seemed kind of overbearing, so I reduced the bass a bit. For the guitar, keying in to what you like on Science of Traffic, I gave the same "up front" kind of quality. It was a bit more of a challenge because I didn't want collisions between the center guitar and the ones in the left and right channels, but checked in mono and it still seemed fairly easy to tell them apart. Chromey Yum - It sounded like it wanted a bit of a Brazilian vibe, so I added some air to bring out the percussion. But I also took a real liking to the guitar in the left channel - you don't hear a lot of block chords these days, so I made sure it was present...in some ways it seemed like it was equally important as the lead riffing (not the main wah lead). I wanted to make the wah lead growl, and have the bass around 1:30 really feed into the solo. Not sure if this is the direction you want but if you don't like this master, I'm keeping it for my private collection :) Double Yang - Don't know if you wanted a boomy kick; I found it indistinct so I brought up more of the beater hit and less of the thud. It seemed like it fought less with the bass that way as well. I also wanted the snare to snap more so it works better with the kick. As to the guitars, I used 32
the same kind of treatment on the guitars as the other cuts. BTW I really dig the "synth" arpeggios that are actually guitars. Glitch - I felt the kick needed a bit more punch. This was tough, there was a lot of overlap with the guitars. The ones on the sides seemed to dominate compared to the one in the middle, so I used mid-side EQ to bring up the mids on the center guitar but not on the sides. I do think this is a major improvement on the original and balances the lead better with the rhythm parts, but it's probably the most different from the original compared to the other masters, so please listen to it several times to get acclimated to the new sound before deciding what you think. Googleonaught - This seemed a bit bass-light so I gave it more low end, which I think balanced out the "in your face" guitar pretty well. Other than that I felt the mix didn't really need much. Rise of Silver - This really seemed electro to me, so I gave it about 2 dB at 1.5k for lots of "snap," and more body to the kick at 50 Hz for clubgoers. I also gave it a little high shelf to bring out the percussive transients. She Zen - I figured you wanted the bass up, but it seemed to dominate over the guitars so I did some novel EQ to drop a consistent number of dB between 75 and 300 Hz, but with a fairly steep skirt on either side to keep the super-low end and the high-end articulation. The guitar got two peaks - one at 1 kHz for the "in your face" with the wah, and 3 kHz for a little more articulation. Spinna - As with Rise of Silver, I wanted to make sure there was some bass around 50 Hz. If you do a vinyl version you'll need to cut off just above that as you go into the cutter. It was tricky to emphasize the guitars more without also bringing up the high-hat, but I think it turned out okay, especially after adding a tiny bit of high end "gloss" to the overall track. 33
Wave Trigger - This needed a little mud taken out of the lower mids, some "in your face" frequencies for guitar (they needed to be a little higher than usual in this cut), and a little high shelf action to make the drums "speak" more.
ON TO DYNAMICS Once the EQ was nailed down, it was time to have a consistent dynamic range. Quist and I were on the same page—retaining enough dynamics so the music could “breathe,” while having a “competitive” volume level if put in a playlist. So far my favorite processor for this application, and believe me I’ve tried them all, is Waves’ L3 Multimaximizer. It’s extremely flexible, very effective, and remarkably transparent even when pushed fairly hard. Because the tracks had no overall dynamics processing, all of the “squashing” was done solely with the L3. This made it easy to compensate for differences among the various pieces simply by manipulating the L3’s controls. I added an L3 to each track, and like the EQ, picked a couple “standards” for level and matched everything to those tracks. Again, Exclusive Solo was invaluable in doing rapid-fire A/B testing to compare levels. Next up: album assembly and generating files for duplication, so I bounced all the tracks through their processors to new clips, and exported those for the final stage of the mastering process.
ASSEMBLY TIME Doing albums is very different from doing singles. You can master singles easily within SONAR, but the program isn’t really designed for album assembly other than running off a quick “draft” CD. So, I needed to go outside the Cakewalk ecosystem. These days, I do album assembly in Studio One Pro for two main reasons: it has good analytics for measuring dynamic range, and you can export DDP and CD image files for duplicators. Although the actual timeline has limitations when dealing with complex assembly jobs that require crossfades and such (I do these in SONAR, then import into Studio One Pro and add the appropriate markers), all “Trigger” needed was spaces between songs. However, Quist was not into the standard 2 seconds between songs, and was very particular about the timings. Generally he wanted tighter timings, but several of the cuts had either ambiguous endings or fades; the choice of timings was solely an artistic decision at his end. This really revealed the limitations of working remotely—if he’d been sitting in my studio, we could have wrapped in the timings in a few minutes. Instead, there was a lot of sending MP3 files of the complete album with “Well are these transitions right yet?” Comments would often be along the lines of “these three cuts are perfect now, but this transition needs to be a little 34
tighter” and another file would hit OneDrive. Ultimately, though, having the proper timings really did make a difference with the album’s pacing, and the effort was worth it. Studio One Pro’s DR (Dynamic Range) analytics were very helpful in matching levels. If you’re not familiar with DR measurements, they basically measure how much dynamic range is being used, with lower numbers indicating more “squashing.” A lot of pop music is mastered to an average dynamic range of 4 or 5 dB, and sometimes even lower, but fortunately Quist had no desire to murder his music. I sent him test files with DR values of 6, 7, and 8. He had a hard time deciding between 7 and 8, but ultimately, went for 7 (the same value I chose for my “Neo-” album). I felt it was a good decision that hit the sweet spot between how albums are mastered these days yet it still had enough dynamics to prevent listener fatigue. Cloud storage for file transfers was an essential part of the mastering process
Most of the cuts hit DR7 but a few came in a little high or a little low. I would then go back into SONAR, tweak the L3 Multimaximizer, export, and try again. In case you wonder why I just didn’t insert the L3 in Studio One and make the changes there, if limiting changed the balance to such an extent that I needed to tweak the EQ, I could do so easily with the L-Phase equalizer and QuadCurve. Eventually all the cuts were tweaked with respect to level and dynamics, and given a final check for consistency. Of course, when you listen to the entire album as a single entity from start to finish, little annoying things will pop up—a high-hat that’s a little too prominent, a kick that stands out a much, a guitar that needs to be more upfront…you get the idea. We tracked each one of these down one by one, I’d do the fix, send him a link, he’d approve, and eventually we had the final result.
CODA A lot of effort went into mastering “Trigger” but the results were gratifying. Quist knows what he wants and has good ears, so I could count on him to identify anything he wanted changed. 35
Heâ€™s a perfectionist, but I like working with perfectionists because they really care about what they do. I understand that once music is committed to a CD and/or vinyl, you better be happy with the results. I kept emphasizing the goal of this exercise was to end up with al album where there was nothing he would change, and we achieved that.
Resources Official Quist web site Trigger iTunes page Waves L3 Multimaximizer landing page
How to Record Ukulele By Craig Anderton
I admit it—although ukuleles are fun to carry around for quick musical noodling, I never took them seriously. However one day while waiting for a Windows update to complete, I picked up my Lâg soprano ukulele and came up with a riff that seemed like a good foundation for a song. But I’d never recorded ukulele before, so there was a learning curve ahead…and here’s what I learned.
WHY EVEN BOTHER? A soprano ukulele may look like a toy, but what something looks like doesn’t always relate to what it sounds like when you get it in front of a mic—think of all the guitar players who turn a practice amp up to 10 and sound like a stack. After recording the ukulele, I was shocked at how good it sounded in a track. The combination of nylon strings and a different tuning range were a perfect complement to acoustic guitar and other tracks. Even a musician friend who really knows his stuff couldn’t place the sound— mandolin? Guitar with a capo? A type of world music instrument? In some ways, it fills the same kind of sonic hole as a guitar with Nashville tuning (i.e., a 12-string with only the six highest-pitched strings). Although soprano ukuleles aren’t the most common ukulele variant, at least for me they provide the best balance and texture when integrated into songs. From here on, all references to “ukulele” refer to a soprano ukulele. You can find a good soprano ukulele for under $100, and I’ve played some decent ones that are under $50.
MIKING THE UKULELE I try to get the sound right at the source—I’m happiest when no EQ is required, but simply optional for making an instrument fit better in a mix. A ukulele doesn’t have the “girth” of an acoustic guitar, so my guitar-miking knowledge was irrelevant and I needed to start from scratch. Contact mics were out, because the body was too prone to pick up noise. Dynamic mics didn’t do justice to the transients, so I tried several condenser mics. The Neat King Bee, a largediaphragm condenser, was the hands-down winner. Its sensitivity is important for capturing all the nuances, and the custom audio output transformer keeps the noise super-low.
As to mic placement, I play standing up and setting up the mic about 6 inches away from the ukulele produced the best results. Interesting, using a Primacoustic Voxguard gave a warmer, fuller, more intimate sound. Without the Voxguard, although the sound was more “accurate,” it seemed thinner.
TUNING The standard tuning is G C E A, as shown on the staff below going from the 4th to the 1st string.
However, ukuleles are tough to keep in tune for several reasons. Nylon strings tend to stretch when first replaced, so you’ll touch up tuning often. I use a Planet Waves PW-CT-12 NS Micro Headstock Tuner, which fits easily on the ukulele’s headstock. Furthermore, the neck is short and unless you have small hands, it’s difficult to play the ukulele without pushing some notes out of tune when fingering them. So…I cheat. After recording a part, I use Melodyne Editor’s polyphonic pitch correction capabilities to clean up any tuning errors.
SIGNAL PROCESSING Despite its small size, a ukulele’s bright, percussive sound can “take over” a track—not unlike a tambourine, albeit for different reasons. For my first few mixes with ukuleles, I’d listen back and find the level too high. Some ukulele tracks required no EQ or dynamics—just a little reverb and console emulation— and these were mixed fairly low. In most cases, though, a little compression helped tame the peaks and transients. I also tried limiting with the Concrete Limiter, which does wonders for bass and drums. However with the ukulele, simply taming the peaks wasn’t really enough; the more even dynamic range resulting from compression was a better choice.
However in one song, the ukulele played for both the verses and choruses. The verses were overall more quiet, and the ukulele was just too prominent. As illustrated in the left screen shot, pulling back with a 48 dB/octave lowpass filter around 5 kHz tamed the highs, and a slight boost around 300 Hz—where I normally cut a bit—added some body and fullness. In the chorus (right), where the song really opened up, the highs were left alone and again, a boost around 300 Hz added body. Ukuleles also seem enamored of reverb, although shorter decays were most effective in maintaining articulation. Typically, RT60 times around 600-700 ms sounded about right.
SERIOUSLY? UKULELE? Yes, seriously. A ukulele doesn’t cost much, can add new textures you wouldn’t have otherwise, and lends itself to processing so it fits well in a track. I’ve gone from being a ukulele cynic to a fan, and plan to expand my ukulele collection with Epiphone’s acoustic/electric Concert scale model (with a 15” scale as opposed to the Soprano’s 13” scale). An added bonus is that because a ukulele uses a different tuning, it encourages me to play with different fingerings, and has kicked off several riffs that gave birth to songs. What’s not to like? Forget the “Hawaiian music only” stereotype, and have fun.
You Mix, We Master By Craig Anderton Sometimes you don’t want a full-blown mastering job, but just a better-sounding mix. From time to time, we take a reader-submitted song and describe how to master it using SONAR’s available tools. This issue’s project is “One Night Love Affair,” a cover of a Bryan Adams song submitted by Jerry Oakes.
ANALYSIS The track itself is “mastering-friendly”—there’s plenty of headroom, and no processing has been added to the master bus. In terms of EQ, the overall background track is somewhat muffled, which means that the drums lack punch. However, the fine-sounding vocal is sufficiently bright, and the solo guitar has a somewhat bright, buzzy quality. So, the trick is how to bring up the definition on the overall track to make it pop, but without making the vocal too bright or the guitar any buzzier. Furthermore, despite the muffled quality, the very low end is lacking—I don’t hear a lot of kick or lower bass notes. Fortunately, I like vocals high in the mix (it’s the part that really connects with the listener), so a little extra brightness won’t hurt. The guitar is trickier, because we need to reduce the “buzzy” range but not reduce the overall brightness. The low end is an easy fix, because there’s not much happening down there; a boost at the lower end of the bass range should fix things.
EQ FIXES The High band adds an overall high-frequency shelf to boost the highs starting around 2 kHz. That helps give more “pop,” and the overall definition— especially drums— improves dramatically.
However, with the extra brightness the guitar’s “buzziness” becomes more noticeable. So I used the old trick of creating a narrow bandwidth boost with a ton of gain, followed by sweeping the frequency control until the buzziness was really obvious. Then, I cut in the same range. Of course you can’t have everything; any other audio in the same range will be cut. But the main instrument being affected is drums, which cover a much wider bandwidth than the guitar’s buzz. So, most of the boost on the drums remained intact. The high shelf added to the vocal definition, but also brought up a resonance on the vocals (room? Mic? nasal cavity? Who knows…). I used a technique similar to taming the guitar to reduce the vocal resonance around 2500 Hz. Next up: The low end. Boz Bark of Dog is ideal (it’s actually a great processor, but I suspect it may fall victim to the “it’s free and doesn’t have a 3D UI, so it must not be any good” syndrome). However, it adds just what the doctor ordered to solidify the low end, and also, helps out those speakers whose response starts to trail off below 100 Hz (i.e., most smaller monitors). Although the low-end emphasis is helpful, we also want to make sure there’s no “mud.” A slight cut around 300 Hz takes care of this.
CONSOLE EMULATOR Console Emulators are controversial, so here’s how I deal with the topic. I place the mouse over the bypass button, close my eyes, and click until I don’t know whether it’s active or bypassed. Then I click and compare, still with my eyes closed. After deciding which sounds best, I open my eyes to find out what it was. 99% of the time, it’s with the Console Emulator in. So, that’s why it’s in.
DYNAMICS The Concrete Limiter does just fine for general limiting; I prefer it to bus compression. It’s placed after the Bark of Dog/EQ/Console Emulator for two reasons: We want to clamp the output to -0.3 dB, so placing EQ afterward might create peaks. Also, some of the boosts settle into the track better when limited. Generally for pop music, setting the threshold so the maximum gain reduction is around 5 dB seems to hit the sweet spot between retaining dynamics yet “squashing” enough to be level-competitive when placed in a playlist.
BEFORE AND AFTER Go to Cakewalk’s YouTube channel to see a video that compares the original and mastered versions. To make for a fair comparison, I’ve matched the peak levels of the “before” and “after” sections, but not the sections that show what adding or subtracting individual effects can do. Here are the timings. 00:00 00:30 01:00 01:15 01:30 01:45 02:00
– – – – – – –
00:30 01:00 01:15 01:30 01:45 02:00 04:12
Raw, unmastered “before” file Mastered “after” file with all processors No EQ, but with limiting EQ, but no limiting Mastered “after” file with all processors Raw, unmastered “before” file Mastered “after” file with all processors
FINAL TOUCHES If this was “mission-critical” mastering instead of just “let’s make the mix sound better,” I would have increased the level on the intro and some of the transitions, applied some EQ only in certain sections rather than throughout the entire tune, and used a multiband maximizer instead of the Concrete Limiter. However, I think this song illustrates that with some judiciously applied EQ and dynamics, you can make a big difference in improving the sound of a final mix.
Cakewalk 30th Anniversary Celebration:
30 QuadCurve EQ Presets for Fabulous Filtering By Craig Anderton
Ah yes…the QuadCurve. It not only provides the functionality you need: it’s versatile, surprisingly kind to your CPU, and conveniently enough, built right into the ProChannel. These 30 presets provide a variety of ways to use the QuadCurve with instruments and program material (however, you can also translate these settings to other EQs, including the Sonitus EQ included in SONAR’s Artist version). Please note that the presets load only the QuadCurve EQ, so you’re on your own if you want to add other ProChannel modules. However, it’s easy to transfer these EQ settings to an existing ProChannel setup: 1. Choose the Console view. 2. Load the QuadCurve preset into a ProChannel.
3. Ctrl+click on the small QuadCurve graph in the console channel (not the graph in the ProChannel), and drag into the small target QuadCurve graph. Note that presets are a point of departure; you’ll usually need to do some tweaks based on the instrument or musical context. So we won’t just love you and leave you—each preset has suggestions on which parameters you should consider for tweaking, and how those tweaks affect the sound. So…let’s do some fabulous filtering.
1. Airy Background Vocals. This will help you get those massed, airy background vocals like 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” Adjust the HP Freq to dial in the correct amount of low frequencies, and the High stage gain to vary the brightness.
2. All About the Bass. I call this a “mesa” response because it resemble the mesas in the southwest. It can bring up the kick and low toms in a drum track, or the bass in program material. You can “focus” to narrower or broader range of frequencies by changing the Low or High Mid band Freq, placing the Lo Mid band in between them, and then adjusting the Lo Mid gain (and possibly Q) to produce the most even response.
3. Amp Sim Mellower. The LP stage introduces a sharp dropoff around 5 kHz (like a real cabinet). Raise the Freq for more highs. The High Mid stage gives more articulation, but if the sound is harsh, reduce its Gain. You probably won’t need to change the HP frequency because it’s mostly about reducing frequencies below the guitar’s range.
4. Amp Sim Tamer. Amp sims sometimes have “fizzy,” buzzy annoying frequencies. Use the Lo Mid Freq control to tune this out; the frequency will likely be in the range of 2.5 to 10 kHz. The LP Freq shaves off the highs that typically aren’t present in cabinets, while the High Shelf increases the perceived treble to compensate for the notch filter that takes out the annoying frequency.
5. Bass Amp Push Growl. If youâ€™re using a bass amp sim that has some built-in growly distortion (e.g., the CA-X Bass Growl or Bass Rock amps), the Low Mid boost will cause those frequencies to go into distortion before other frequencies, which increases the amount of growl and makes for a more aggressive bass sound. Increase the Lo Mid Gain for more growl; change the Freq to focus on different bass frequencies.
6. Bass Pick Emphasis. This accents pick noise and harmonics, which can make a bass more prominent in a mix without increasing the level per se. Adjust the amount of Hi Mid boost to taste.
7. Bass Round and Smooth. Use this when you want the bass to own only the lower frequencies. Edit the LP Freq for the treble response; the Low stage boosts the bass’s lowest notes. If this “fights” with a kick drum, move the Low Freq a bit higher (e.g., 100 Hz) and narrow the Q (higher values). Note that this uses the QuadCurve’s “Pure” curve for a broad, gentle response.
8. Bass Tight Low End Boost. The sharp HP filter tightens the overall sound by reducing the very lowest frequencies, while the Low boost emphasizes the lower bass notes.
9. Create Space for Male Vocals. You’d apply this to something like a guitar or piano track if it masks some of the male vocal frequencies. Edit the Lo Mid Freq to cover the range covered by the vocals, and create more space for them by reducing the Gain further. The Hi Mid dip is optional; it reduces frequencies where vocal intelligibility occurs.
10. Crisper Drums. The Low band reduction reduces “mud” to tighten the sound, while the High shelf brings out more “sizzle” and crispness. The key to changing the effect is editing the Gain parameters for the Low and High bands.
11. Digital Hash Tamer. Some digital gear, particularly older instruments, generate high frequencies that aren’t needed and can contribute to a certain kind of harshness. This uses a steep HP filter to take out most of the super-high frequencies, along with four stages set to notch out high frequencies (at 17, 18, 19, and 20 kHz) even further.
12. Drums More Kick and Sizzle. This uses the “mesa” response described earlier to bring up the kick, and a High band boost to bring up percussion, cymbals, etc. For information on editing the mesa, see the description for preset 2, “All About the Bass.” Vary the High gain to determine the amount of brightness.
13. Drums to the Front. The Lo Mid band reduces â€œmudâ€? around 170 Hz, while the Low band accents the kick, the Hi Mid band emphasizes the snare and higher toms, and the High band adds brightness (supplemented by the Gloss stage). To change the amount of emphasis in each section, simply vary the appropriate Gain control.
14. Dynamic Mic Enhancer. Dynamic mics tend to have a darker/warmer sound than condenser mics, as well as a tendency toward exhibiting the proximity effect that boosts bass. Vary the HP Freq to control the amount of proximity effect, and the High Gain to increase or decrease frequencies in the intelligibility range.
15. House Music Drums. Most house music loops are equalized similarly to this curve, but applying these settings on other drum loops makes them more â€œhouse music-friendly.â€? The Low band boosts the kick, the High Shelf increases brightness, and the Hi Mid dips the midrange around 830 Hz to give more space to vocals and other instruments.
16. Humbucker to Single-Coil Converter. Although not an exact emulation, this timbral change creates a very useful alternative sound with humbuckers. Analysis captured the spectral response of a bridge humbucker, then the response of that same pickup rewired for single-coil operation, and comparing the two allowed creating a curve that matched the standard humbucker to the single-coil version sound.
17. Less Mud and Tighten. For program material whose overall sound lacks tightness and sounds somewhat “muddy,” lower the Lo Mid Gain control to tighten further.
18. More “In Your Face.” This is applicable to individual tracks or program material. Be careful, though; the ear is most sensitive in the 3 kHz range covered by the Hi Mid band, so a little goes a long way. Don’t use this on every track in a mix, just the one or two that need to be more “in your face.” If the sound is too harsh, lower the Hi Mid gain a bit.
19. More Snare Snap. The Hi Mid bump at 3100 Hz adds punch and snap to snare drum sounds. Although it works well with individual drum tracks, it will work with some program material to pull the snare out a bit from the mix (however it may affect other instruments as well).
20. Open Back Cabinet Emulator. Open-back guitar amps tend to have less bass response because the waves emanating from the back cancel the waves coming out the front to some degree. Dial in this amount of pseudo-cancellation with the HP Freq control.
21. Percussion Enhancer. This is for percussion like congas, talking drums, frame drums, etc. that emphasize low frequencies. The HP filter reduces very low frequencies (which may be too prominent when close-miking), while the Lo, Lo Mid, and Hi Mid controls boost at particular frequencies. You probably won’t want to increase the boost much, but do experiment with the Freq controls to dial in regions that best emphasize the percussion.
22. Piano Classical Grand. Some piano virtual instruments are recorded fairly “bright” to fit in well with rock and country music. If you want a more classical grand piano sound, try this preset. The High band reduces the brightness, while the Low and Lo Mid bands give more “authority” to the bass notes.
23. Piano Rock. This does the opposite of the previous presetâ€”it takes classical piano sounds and makes them more rock-friendly. The High shelf increases the brightness, while the mild Lo Mid cut makes more space for other instruments and reduces muddiness. The Low band adds an optional low frequency boost because the Lo Mid cut reduces the perceived bass.
24. P-Pop Stopper. If your recorded vocal has p-pops, this may be all you need to fix the problem. The HP control is crucial; vary the Freq control to trade off low frequency depth for less pronounced p-pops. The Low band adds a steep notch to make the HPâ€™s slope even more drastic than the 48 dB/octave setting.
25. Reduce Honk. This “reverse mesa” response reduces frequencies around 1 kHz. Try it on program material to smooth out the midrange a bit, on acoustic guitar tracks that use a piezo pickup, and some electric guitar tracks. For info on tweaking the mesa response, please refer to preset 2, “All About the Bass.”
26. Reduce Subsonics and DC Offset. You can’t hear subsonic signals or DC offset, but they reduce the available headroom—so you might as well get rid of them. This uses the steepest possible HP setting, and the Low, Lo Mid, and Hi Mid stages to attenuate the low frequencies even more. So why the High stage boost at 37 Hz? This helps make for a flatter response just above the “cliff.”
27. Scoop. The Hi Mid control provides a fairly deep midrange scoop, while the Low band boosts the bass a bit and the High band does the same for the highest frequencies. The highs and lows seem more apparent because of their levels compared to the lowered midrange. Try this on amp sims, program material, and drums if a track is really busy.
28. Tambourine Tamer. Tambourines are loaded with high-frequency content that can dominate a track, even if they’re mixed at a fairly low level. The HP filter takes out the lows (which can happen from “hand thumps” against the tambourine frame or shell). Edit the Hi Mid Freq to dial in where the tambourine high-frequency energy is most prominent, and use the Gain control to set the amount of “taming.”
29. Telephone / Megaphone Voice. The HP and LP filters remove the highs and lows, while the Hi Mid band emphasizes the remaining frequencies. Increase the Hi Mid gain for a more pronounced effect, or lower it for a subtler megaphone.
Voice Broadcasting / Podcasting. For a â€œradio voice,â€? the HP takes out plosives and pops, the Low band offsets the bass loss caused by the HP filter, Lo Mid creates a slight midrange notch, the Hi Mid band and Gloss increase intelligibility, while the High band is a high-frequency shelf. The E-Type curve is the response of choice. Because of the vast variation in voices and mics, experiment with the Freq and Gain controls.
Publisher Alex Westner
Editorial/Design Director Craig Anderton
Contributors Noel Borthwick, Keith Albright, Lance Riley, Bob Currie, Christopher Brown, Jon Downing, Logan Thomas, Bill Jackson, Mike Lally, Jimmy Landry, Jim Lima, Morten Saether, Jon Sasor, John Joseph Advisory Board The Cakewalk community
Gibson Pro Audio General Manager Ingrid Calvo
Executive Director Henry Juszkiewicz
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