Saffire Mix Control – Creating Headphone Mixes 2

Here is a quick follow up to my original ‘Creating Headphone Mixes’  video. In this one I explain how to create sends in Pro Tools and route them out of the line outs on the back of the interface using Mix Control.

I had been promising to do this for a while, so apologies for the delay.

Thanks to all the new followers on You Tube, and for all the comments and emails.

Keep ‘em coming!

Garry

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Mic mods

My love for microphones started when I was doing my degree, and it was a little while after finishing it that I was able to work and afford to build up a collection.

At the time the compromise was to build or modify my own mics and it is still something I do now. About 50% of the mics I own are modified or home made, and the other 50% are yet to be modified.

So, this week I decided to work on two microphones to add to the collection. One I built from scratch, and the other (a mic I had already worked on), I modified.

The first was a  U87 clone, built using the casing and PCB from the Rode NT1-A mic. If I had thought ahead I would have done a before/after sound comparison but as they are fairly common place (I know a few people I can borrow from) I might do one soon.

Røde NT1-A
The mic even looks cheap on top of the Neumann U87 schematic!

The original capsule was swapped out for the RK-87 ‘dual-diaphragm’ capsule from Microphone Parts which costs about £70. The Røde I got second hand off eBay for about £50 and the switch was £1.50. This is the most money I have spent on modding a mic.

I don’t like the headbasket and I’m still looking for a decent one to fit to this but removing the inner mesh opened the sound, although serious pop filtering is required when close miking. Also good to keep it covered when not in use to keep excess dust from gathering on the diaphragm.

I had the mic in a cardioid pattern for months and with the help of a friend fitted a sub-minature switch this week, to add an omni pattern. Although definitely not a Neumann, this modification improved the sound of this mic a lot.

If you are into it, here is the frequency chart for the RK-87 capsule…

image courtesy of microphone-parts.com
image courtesy of microphone-parts.com

And for the Rode NT1-A…

NT1-NT1A-frequency
image courtesy of recording hacks.com

And the finished mic!

Finished Røde NT1-A
…with lovely stickers made on a label maker (this is a temporary measure until I find something better)

Mini Mic

The second, was the Mini Mic; a small omni condensor made with an electret mic element, 100K resistor, a 1mF 50v capacitor and some heat shrink tubing, all lovingly stuffed inside a Neutrik XLR male connector.

I stumbled across this looking for omni capsules for my MXL 603′s and came across Henry Spragens site, www.audioimprov.com. The site is a great resource if you are interested in making and ‘modding’ your own mics (and I really love the Apple 2 music section). Full instructions on how to build the mic are here.

IMG_1778
Due to it’s size this is a bit fiddly, so use a magnifying glass when soldering.
IMG_1786
Hard to see, but I added some heat shrink to the soldered connections for extra strength.
IMG_1787
Once the circuit was complete (and tested) I used some more heat shrink to keep it all together and tidy, and to make it easier to get into the XLR connector.
IMG_1792
Voila! That went a lot smoother than I had anticipated…
IMG_1793
I also used a bit of an old sock (a clean one!) to make a tiny windshield for the mic.

So, the end result is a phantom powered omni electret microphone small enough to fit in your pocket. It took me about 30 minutes to put this together on Saturday and the parts cost about £5 from ESR in Cullercoats.

When I tested them out last night at the studio we were all pretty surprised at the results, and I’m so impressed that I’m going to make another one this week.

Here are the WAV files of an acoustic guitar. Both mics were positioned 6″ from the guitar pointing at the 12th fret. They were recorded through a Soundcraft desk and a pre-Avid M-Audio fast track  into Reaper.

Enjoy!

 

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Free plugins that I use on almost every mix

I am a big believer in less is more, and can get overwhelmed by a lot of the new software products that come out EVERYDAY. That is not to say that I don’t find some of them useful, fun or interesting, but yes I much prefer to spend time getting good recordings and save myself plenty of time at mix down, than I do fiddling around with plugins once the session is a distant memory.

Unfortunately, that seems to be coming more of a luxury as a lot of music I work on has a very tight time constraint usually due to limited budget (even if I do like to throw in a deal every once in a while..;), and even though I am very thorough, I do still occasionally find myself listening back to a part and thinking “if I only could have spent a bit more time with placement…blah blah.”, and in those moments it is reassuring to know that I have some indispensable software that I can turn to in a moment of need. Even better, when I know that I haven’t had to pay a fortune for the privilege. As I have become more aware, recently spending a lot more time in the control room mixing than anything else, a lot of the plugins I rely on to do my work didn’t cost me anything at all!

So, with that said, here is a list of 5 plugins that I use pretty much everyday, and the best thing? They are all free!*

SPOILER
*except the last one.  Sorry.

Elysia Niveau EQ

I have a lot of Plugin Alliance stuff; Vertigo is my go to for transparent compression (although not entirely without colouration or tonal character – it is an emulation of the hardware after all) and the MAAG fixed band EQ is great for acoustic guitars and adding ‘air’ to vocals or strings without being too harsh; However, the one plug-in I use on every session is a free one, the Elysia Niveau EQ (which comes separately, or bundled with the Brainworx bx_cleansweep, Brainworx bx_solo, SPL FreeRanger).

ElysiaNiveau

As the website states, this is the EQ section from the Elysia Mpressor plugin and the centre frequency can be shifted between 26 Hz and 2.2 kHz, or when the x10 button is activated, between 260 Hz and 22 kHz.

I also really love that the EQ can be used as a high or low pass filter by setting the EQ gain to it’s most extreme setting either left of right, respectively.

The one thing I use it for is vocals and the image shows a typical setting I would use (usually somewhere between 50-60Hz) to push a vocal forward in the mix. In a track with an intimate vocal, that wasn’t recorded quite close enough, I have found that this EQ helps to close that gap, and then some, in a quite magical way. And did I mention it was free?

Available from Plugin Alliance. Don’t forget it comes in a bundle with other free plugins. Which leads me onto my next freebie…

BX SOLO

BX SOLO

A very simple plug-in which lets you solo out any section of your mix (L + R, Mid or Side) to give a perfect picture when working in M/S modes.

Usually when I’m coming to the end of a mix I will pop this last in my chain on the master out, checking in stereo and mono for any weird noises or phasing issues. I do tend to do a little mid/side processing with a linear phase EQ or gain but this all usually comes off before a track goes to master (occasionally followed by the preset file).

Comes in the Plugin Alliance bundle, or separately.

Blue Cat’s Gain (dual)

BC GAIN

I love the Blue Cat stuff (especially the freeware), this being the one I use the most. A very simple gain plug-in available in mono, stereo or M/S modes.

Also, you can link multiple plugins in a session together using the link or group feature which means you can control the gain of those tracks simultaneously using only one knob!

The plugs are available separately or as part of a bundle of freeware.

Pensadia Sor8

SOR8Compressor plugin from the elusive Cocell Productions and based on the 8X (or Distressor EL8X) from Empirical Labs.  To be fair to Cocell, it does state on the website that this was a Facebook group project with Pensado’s (Dave?) students, so I’m sure if I used Facebook at all I might have more information about the plug-in, and not be so easy to portray them as some sort of subsidiary of the Umbrella Corporation.

Anyway I digress, at no point on the website do they say this is an emulation of the Distressor, the key word being ‘based’, and at first glance the plugin controls don’t seem to mirror the EL8X’s that closely at all; however, it does have a NK ratio setting which I am taking to mean ‘NUKE’.

So, I’m not even going to attempt a like for like comparison here.

As this thing is sensitive and can get aggressive really quickly, I rarely use it on a ratio higher than about 4:1 (I did use on a parallel compression buss a couple of times), and never more than -2dB gain reduction. It can impart a nice tonal characteristic and even at a moderate setting does add something nice to instruments, especially programmed drums with dirty high hats, giving them a firm and focused up-front sound. I especially like the Distortion settings D1 (odd harmonics) and D2 (even), and the High Pass filters D and A come in handy to reduce the amount of low end harmonics added by the distortion.

Not for everything, and probably not that close to the sound of a real EL8X, but pretty good in it’s own right.

To say it is free is a white lie as the free version resets when closing and reopening the session. They ask for the donation of $1 to get the ‘full’ version, which I did, and I haven’t looked back. Check it out here.

Eventide Ultrachannel

Eventideultrchannel

Ok, this one is a bit of cheat, so I apologise in advance for leading you down this path (*you led yourself a bit too; see above). The Ultrachannel WAS free for a few months but now it costs $249, a pretty clever promotional offering on behalf of Eventide, and when I’m using it sometimes I do consider myself lucky that I added myself to their mailing list last year. Having missed out on Soundtoys Little Microshift and Devil-loc in the previous two years, I feel that this makes up for it (but only slightly).

I like this plugin a lot, and really just for the microshift from the H8000 (as opposed to the Soundtoys little microshift plugin based on the H3000 hardware). Actually, if this had only been a free microshift plugin I would have been happy just for that, but it is much more. It includes; a 5 band EQ, gate, compressor, o-pressor, stereo delay and output transformer,  which I use quite often to add some saturation to the signal, and these can be moved into any configuration in the signal chain/channel strip in order of preference.

Anyway, I’ll stop going on about it. It isn’t free anymore. I don’t work for them, and to prove it I will leave you with this; I demoed the Ultrareverb the other week and found it pretty bland and uninspiring.

Conclusion: Lots of great free plugins out there, including the stock ones that come with the DAW. Logic beats Pro Tools for the stock plugs IMO, I love using the Tape Delay on a 0 setting for the saturation and Bitcrusher is all over the cymbals and high hats in any mix I do.

Please feel free to comment or contact me by email.

Take care and thanks for reading!

G

 

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Making your own sub kick microphone

Hey everybody,

Thanks to a recent email conversation about setting up a tone generator to enhance the sub frequencies (around 50Hz) of a kick drum, I remembered a while ago I posted some photos of my home made sub kick mic on the Facebook page, but didn’t do a blog post about it.  So, here it is!

I really made this microphone for my own pleasure (not because I’m a cheapskate) and it was suprisingly easy to do with only a little research. Now I use it on every session.

You could argue that a sub kick mic is pointless given that it is possible to get this effect in the DAW in a couple of minutes and with stock plug-ins, but I’ll let you decide.

*edit*
Since posting I have had an email conversation with another subscriber asking about using this technique on bass guitar as well as kick drum. To add extra harmonics to the bass and sub bass frequencies I would personally use a designated plug-in like Maxxbass other than a gated sine wave. The reason being, if you have a 50Hz wave the note is a G1, 51Hz – GSharp1 and 55Hz – A1 etc which can cause note clashes depending on the key of your track. If it fits, great! But it wont work on every mix. Same if you use a frequency to enhance the kick drum, clashing can still occur, especially with the bass instruments such as bass guitar or synths.
*edit*

Save yourself the headache, it’s good to have these tricks up your sleeve but there will be times when it wont work and you need a quick fix to get a mix finished by a deadline or so you can quickly move on to another task.

For your pleasure I have included some audio samples of the two techniques to listen to side by side.

Enjoy!

On the drums for this session I used a sub kick and an M88, so the first sample is the kit with just the M88.

The second clip is the kit with a 50Hz sine wave added using the signal generator and expander/gate plug-in in Pro Tools.

Lastly, the kit with the home made sub kick microphone.

Here are some photos of the sub kick making process, using;

a 10″ 30 watt Celestion Greenback – about £60;

skback

an old, but decent, balanced mic cable – free because I had one lying around;

skstarting

an inline attenuator with -10, -20 and -30 dB pad – £6.00 eBay;

skmaking

a 10″ rack tom – this is from a pearl session custom I have in the studio but you can get a cheap or free one easily enough. In the last year I have had so many people trying to offload their drumkits on me!

finished-SK

some acoustic foam – £.40

Please feel free to comment, or email.

Take care.

G

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Saffire Mix Control 2 – Routing

Apologies for the delay (no pun intended…well, sort of..) but I finally found the time to do the follow up for my Saffire Mix Control video.

This one shows some more of the routing capabilities of Mix Control, specifically using the line outputs and inputs as send/returns for hardware effects.

One thing I didn’t mention in this one, even though I rambled on for 12 minutes!!, is how to set up Pro Tools for the lowest ’round-trip’ latency. Unfortunately, even in low latency mode in Pro Tools and Mix Control it is still fairly audible. There are work arounds however, and 99% of the time I do end up moving the new clip (or region….damn you Pro Tools!) manually to line up with the original part.

Hopefully you find this video helpful. If so, please feel free to leave a (nice or constructive) comment and you can email me at garry@gatesheadmusicbox.com if you would like to get in touch.

Lastly, a big thank you to Angéline Morand for allowing me to use one of her tracks (below) for the video. This one, plus four more, will be available from all good online retailers, and a few offline ones, from the 9th October.

Check her out at www.angeline-music.com

All the best

Garry

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Pop-up Music – working with The Music Box recording studio

The library that makes noise!

Music Library, Music Sync

We have been a little quiet of late over here at the Music Box but as ever are busy behind the scenes. Luckily we have some Vitamin D supplements to make up for a lack of exposure to the sun!

Our first piece of exciting news is that we are delighted to be a friend of Pop-up Music, a new and diverse music library that offers existing and bespoke music for advertising, film, TV, gaming and corporate projects.

Consisting of original songs produced by real musicians, every sound you hear on Pop-up is true to its genre. They have recently brokered deals with Sky TV and Reverbnation where one of their featured artists, Kangaroo, has just been featured as artist of the week!! Check out the track ‘Jumping Fences’…

As well as mixing and mastering tracks for them over the last year we have been happily referring artists and bands that we have worked with at The Music Box for inclusion in their ever-growing music library of original compositions. This is a great place for new music and independent artists to be heard, and given their already strong reputation amongst some very highbrow clients, a good place to be considered for music sync.

The great advantage for independent artists is that they are exclusively looking for original music, no compromises here, and will consider any submissions regardless of style. You can register your music using a simple form on their page, or through reverbnation.

If you want any more information drop us an email or you can check out their main website here.

More updates to come soon, lots of exciting things happening

Garry

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Apex 205′s on Piano

ThomClarke

In August I decided to buy some ribbon mics for the studio. I often record very loud guitars and love ribbon mics on a guitar cab (as a very good engineer friend of mine says “ribbon + 57 on guitar = best guitar sound ever”, and I’m inclined to agree even if it isn’t that simple, or scientifically proven). But, I need to know that I can get it close enough, and pair it with a 57 or some such, to counteract any phasing issues. Although I suppose one way of protecting a sensitive ribbon mic would be to drop it back so it isn’t getting too much air from the speaker cone and then switching the polarity on the pre or channel strip. A tonal difference, and usually a more ambient sound depending on how your room is treated. However, I like it as close as I can get it and haven’t managed to break one yet.

I decided to go for modded mics, eventually choosing an American company that buys and modifies Apex 205 active ribbon microphones which cost less than $100 each before modification. Apex Electronics is a company based in California which manufactures in China, you can see the original spec sheet here.

Based on the Coles 4038, the ‘modded’ 205 has a 1.8 micron ribbon, as opposed to the stock 6 micron ribbon, specific ribbon tensioning and adjustments made to the headbasket. For a stereo matched pair the price comes in just under $700 (not including shipping), and here it is…

I was excited to try them and asked a colleague to come and play some piano so we could put them to the test. Thom Clarke is a musician and composer who I have had the pleasure to work with on and off over the last few months, and he came in on his day off so we could mess around with a few different placements. In the end I positioned the mics about 3 inches from the hammers  spaced about 14 inches apart and roughly at an 80 degree angle. The simplest way to do it was to wear a pair of closed headphones and just move them around until the balance was right. I love those moments, when you get the placement just right and the sound just really opens up, beautiful. The mics are figure 8, and as the piano sits at the end of the room I wanted to get some of the room ambience (although the room is quite dry) into the back of microphones. We removed the front of the piano as you can see in the picture above. The piano was a little out of tune at the time of doing this (and has since been tuned) and also one of the hammers was loose, so it squeaked A LOT! Although do I like instruments that have character, and like to consider the pedal movements, and other squeaks and creaks, just as much part of the sound as the rest.

So I have added a sample if you would like to listen to the results. We did overdub two instruments, just a pad synth string sample set and old electric piano, as this is a snippet of a song that Thom is working on for a commercial. Check out his site at www.thomclarke.com. 

Enjoy!
G

We will be adding more posts soon about mic modifications including building our own subkick mic as well as a U87 clone. We are addicts now!

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Interview for Audient

In October I was asked to do an interview for Audient, a great UK based company that manufacture high end mixing consoles and pre-amps (amongst other things). Here at The Music Box we have 16 analogue in’s of which eight belong to the Audient ASP008. There is a link to the official site below with loads more info on the company.

Enjoy!

Posing with the ASP

 

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into audio engineering?

I was studying in London doing a performance degree as a drummer. I went to education fairly late on and wasn’t really sure what I wanted the outcome to be. As part of my studies we covered music technology and got to spend time in the studio, although in more of a session player role. As a result something just sparked my interest, and as my knowledge grew I thought “I’m actually not completely terrible at this” and so decided to consider it seriously as a career path for the future.

 
What genres of music do you tend to work in?
Typically I work in alternative music, but I suppose that is a fairly vague category. My passion is live music and I always aim to capture the essence of what a band or artist represents live. Although the studio is a commercial space I tend to track down the projects I know I will enjoy working on. So it could be a singer songwriter or a metal band, if it grabs me I want to be part of the production process.

Your an ASP008 owner, what made you purchase the 008?
Simon Horn (your man in Germany) was a tutor of mine during my degree and is now a good friend. He originally told me to check out the 008 and I was very impressed when I heard how clean and open the sound of the box was. Also, the chap who had the studio before me had an 8024, so from a business point of view it made sense to keep the studio with an Audient set up. You could say it was fate!

What is your favourite feature about the ASP008? What do you tend to use it for? Any tips for other 008 owners?
Not really one specific thing but it has some great features. I especially like the variable high pass filter for when I’m using ribbons on the overheads and I make a lot of use of the instrument inputs. I know it’s not the most exciting or original answer, but I usually have something plugged into it, a guitar, a bass or a synth. Just to get ideas down, before setting up mics. Occasionally these ideas stay on the finished tracks because the DI’d sound on the box is so great.

Speaking of tips, do you have any quirky recording tips?
Not sure about quirky but I am a huge fan of side chaining compressors, especially when it comes to drums. I’m not really that fond of gating. To me it sounds unnatural and stifles the sound of an instrument that should be allowed to breathe. Quite often I will have the sound I want in the overheads but mic up the toms and the kick beater with no intention of feeding them into the mix, just so I can throw it into the compressor.

What are your plans for the future?
I went to a Trevor Horn Q and A last year and I think he put it best. He said that throughout his career he was often asked what he plans to do next, usually after wrapping up a project, and his answer was always the same, “Just keep on working”. So, I couldn’t hope for any more than that.

The full interview is here.

For more information on the ASP008 8-channel microphone preamplifier click here.

 

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Music Production, Mixing, Composition

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