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October 24, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Surfer EQ

EQ adapts to input by detecting pitch fundamental and was the talk of 135th AES NY 2013I heard several people talking about this plugin at the AES convention. So I went over to the Sound Radix booth to see and hear for myself.

Does this scenario sound familiar? The bass guitar needs a little more warmth in the mix. But even a wide Q has a center, favoring some notes more than others. Enter Surfer EQ, which adapts to the input by tracking pitch. The center of your EQ boost can be trained on the fundamental, so as the song progresses you always get the boost (or cut) down where the bass warmth is located. Not only can you apply a typical bell shaped boost / cut, you can also detect pitch for intelligent high and low pass filters, even high and low shelves. But wait — there’s one more extremely cool trick you can perform.

The middle band acts like a regular old bell curve by default. Or you can engage harmonic mode — the EQ not only boosts or cuts the fundamental, it will do the same to the entire set of harmonic frequencies above it. This is a “tone” control in the truest sense. In harmonic mode a boost raises the level of the note across the spectrum. A cut lowers the note, revealing performance gestures and other non-tonal elements in the track.

The obvious application is music. But imagine being able to roll off low end rumble most of the time but the EQ opens up for signal down in that range when it is present. This would be huge for reality TV, film, game audio — any audio mixing market where cleaning up location audio should be quick and intuitive. And I bet sound designers could find all kinds of interesting, unintended uses for an EQ that adapts to pitch.

Here’s a quick look at the plugin so you can see and hear for yourself.

For more check out the Surfer EQ page on the Sound Radix site.

For more convention presentations, photos, audio gear, etc. see: 135th AES NY Roundup

October 24, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Shaun Farley’s AES Convention Take Aways

I recently had an email exchange with my friend Shaun Farley of designingsound.org. His list of AES Convention “take aways” was so insightful I asked for permission to post them here.

Alex Case
As always, he runs a great presentation. I’ve seen him speak multiple times; occasionally on the same topic over different years. Every time, I come away with some little nugget. It isn’t always necessarily something he says directly in his presentation. Sometimes the simple things he points out takes you back mentally… making you think of the tools in a way you haven’t in years. Going back to that headspace, with the perspective that I have now, makes me think of some new approach to try out when I get home. If anyone is headed to an AES conference in the future, and Alex is presenting… go. He’s also got his own website which is worth checking out: http://recordingology.com/

Film Sound Mixing
There’s a big stir-up brewing over the practice of mixing for film and the standards associated with it. People are starting to look at the X-Curve more closely, and determining that it’s too broad to apply it across the full spectrum of theaters. There’s also some serious discussion going on over the playback volume in theaters. Film mixers are, justifiably, aggravated that theaters aren’t screening films at the spec their supposed to. They’re turning everything down by as much as 10dB on a regular basis. There are two culprits outside of the re-recording mixer’s control. The first is trailers. This is probably the main reason everything is getting turned down. Trailers are louder than the films they accompany. People complain, and the volume gets turned down. Either the standard for trailer loudness is being ignored, or LEQ-M just doesn’t cut it. A subset of this problem has to be the trend over the last 10 years to include actual commercials before the trailers. This isn’t something I’ve heard batted around yet, it’s my own speculation. I highly doubt that the same people who are mixing trailers or films are also mixing these commercials. So that’s the second potential culprit. Film mixers don’t want anything approaching television standards. They want the freedom to create art as they see it, and I agree with them. I think the first task that needs to be addressed is the loudness levels of accompanying programs. The second task is to get theaters playing back at the spec they’re supposed to be. If things are then still too loud, that’s when we can start talking about the volume of film mixes in an informed manner.

Sound for Picture Track
This was refreshing in some ways. I think a lot of people were hoping that they would get to go in and learn all of the techniques that the “pros” use. Instead, what they got was a lot of people talking about the decision making process and emphasizing the story-telling aspect. That’s what I was more interested in hearing. So I’m glad it turned out that way.

Sony PCM-D100
This looks pretty interesting. It has a number of improvements over the D50 (higher res audio, mics and preamps with a controlled response out to 40k, etc.), but it also has a significant price point. It will probably cost around $800 retail when it comes out in January. A lot of people are lamenting the lack of external inputs on the device. They have a point, considering the price. It’s simply a purpose-built handheld recorder. It will blow away everything else on the market in terms of quality, but it’s functionality vs. price-point will probably prevent many people from running out to grab one once they’re on the market.

For more convention presentations, photos, audio gear, etc. see: 135th AES NY Roundup

Shaun Farley ponders

October 24, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Triad-Orbit Mic Stand System

Triad 2 - Orbit 2 - Micro 2

click to enlarge

Of all the things that got me excited on the exhibit floor at this year’s AES Convention, I have every intention to purchase a microphone stand system by Triad-Orbit. If you’ve ever struggled with a stand to place a mic in a difficult spot, you’ll appreciate these too. I took lots of pictures so you can see the why this product line is so cool.

The unique split arms configuration shown here seems well suited for drum overheads, piano, or anywhere you want a pair of mikes for stereo recording. The company website also shows the dual arms in use for simultaneous over and under snare miking. To the right: a full view of a Triad 2 stand with Orbit 2 split arms and a Micro 2 at the end of the right boom.

Check out this close-up on the Orbit 2 Y-shaped split.

Orbit 2 close-up

click to enlarge

This close-up shows the ball and joint socket that provides so much flexibility for angling and rotating the boom where you want it quickly.

Ball and socket joint connects vertical pole to boom pole

click to enlarge

Each leg of the tripod has four ratcheted positions and a foot-actuated latch for hands-free adjustment.

Triad leg latches

click to enlarge

This motion GIF from the Triad-Orbit website shows the tilt angles that can be achieved using the ratcheting action.

Each leg has four ratcheted positions and a foot-actuated latch for hands-free adjustment

The telescoping action of the vertical pole is regulated by these ergonomic grips that taper to better fit hand shape.

Ergonomic grip for telescoping vertical pole

click to enlarge

Another rubber coated grip on the telescoping portion of the boom pole.

rubberized boom pole end

click to enlarge

Another ball and joint socket at the end of the boom, called a Micro, makes angling and rotating the microphone so simple.

Rubberized grip at the end of boom arm

click to enlarge

There is a shorter vertical stand that would be great for miking kick, guitar cab, and anything else close to the ground. There is a 3 section telescoping vertical stand too for really high placement. The ball and socket joint is available for a more traditional single boom arm configuration, in addition to the split arm system shown above. There is even a quick release system at the end of the boom pole, similar to a Quick Clip. For more details, see the Triad-Orbit website.

See also: Bobby Owsinki’s thoughts on Triad-Orbit stands

For more convention presentations, photos, audio gear, etc. see: 135th AES NY Roundup

October 22, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Recording Ambience In Surround

Helmut Wittek and Michael Williams talk mult-channel ambience recording at AES 135th NY 2013

Helmut Wittek and Michael Williams

Michael Williams has dramatically influenced my recording techniques for stereo and multi-channel. His seminal Stereo Zoom paper [PDF] helped reconcile the coincident vs. spaced pair perspectives into a unified theory of spacial recording. So I jumped at the chance to hear him present along with Helmut Wittek from Shoeps microphones.

My notes from the Oct 20, 2013 presentation at AES 135 Convention in New York:
W28: Practical Techniques for Recording Ambience in Surround

Helmut Wittek

What is ambience? Understanding sound in three layers:
(1) Reverb, Diffuse Noise
Diffuse, location-independent, not localized, room information.
Must be de-correlated, balanced energy distribution.
(2) Early Reflections, Discrete Sounds (spread)
Discrete, location-independent, localized, but the location is arbitrary, info on position of the source in the room.
Must be correlated, balanced directional distribution.
(3) Discrete Sounds
Discrete, location-dependent, localized, source information.
Must be correlated.

a collection of 5 simultaneous recordings with 6 different surround ambience microphone setups presented at 135th AES NY 2013

Recording Ambience: Berlin Street Square

Factors that help de-correlate:
Larger distance between the two mikes
More directional mic patterns
Greater angle between mikes

DFC: Diffuse Field Correlation

Arrays can be built using the Image Assistant Java applet and/or the Michael Williams curves.

After the session I spoke with Helmut about using boundary layer techniques to record ambience. We agreed: this could work very well to achieve de-correlation, but the necessary size of the movable boundaries would render such an approach far less practical than any of the arrays demonstrated.

Helmut’s full presentation plus all of the surround sound demonstration files are available here.

Michael Williams

5 channel umbrella, 12 channel umbrella, 16 channel array including height information

Unified Perspective:
All sound is recorded at the same time; there are no layers. The layer concept provides additional control for later in the process whereas array placement is absolutely critical for the Williams arrays. But layers are to sound what hamburgers are to food, whereas the Williams arrays are “like fine French cuisine.”

The 5, 12, and 16 mic arrays are scalable: turn on as many microphones as there are speaker channels.

2nd volume of his book is now available. I bought it.

A collection of papers about recording by Michael Williams, plus his Multichannel Microphone Array Design pages here.

For more convention presentations, photos, audio gear, etc. see: 135th AES NY Roundup

October 18, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Loudness in Interactive Sound at Sony

My notes from the Oct 18, 2013 presentation at AES 135 Convention in New York:
G4: Loudness in Interactive Sound Roundup
by Garry Taylor at Sony

1 LU = 1 dB (sort of…)

EBU Tech 3342 is the TC authored paper about loudness range. The top and bottom 10% are discarded in the TC loudness range measurement. EBU recommendation for home use is a loudness range of 20 LU.

Why standards?
Users deserve a consistent loudness experience.
We want to promote good engineering practices.
Protect the format (and equipment) used to deliver content.

Codecs don’t deal with clipping very well.
Headroom is very important when downmixing from multi-channel to stereo.

Sony’s standards for loudness:
PS3 / PS4: -24 LUFS +/-2
PSVita (mobile): -18 LUFS +/-2
True Peak should not exceed -1 dBTP
Loudness Range (LRA) should not exceed 20 LU

There is loudness code that runs on PS4 development tools. Developers must measure their games and submit the reports, but are not automatically held back if missed.

DSP limiters onboard are not currently True Peak, so they set standard limiters at -1.5dB, which MAY exceed -1 dBTP.

Report from AES on Loudness on Interactive Sound Game Audio

Audio should be measured as a whole, not dialog or other isolated content specifically.
Splash screens are measured separately from gameplay.
Titles should be measured for a minimum of 30 minutes with no maximum, targeting a representative cross-section of all game play.

Loudness testing happens at the very end of development. Make a great sounding game first!

Loudness in interactive entertainment is an inexact science – because content is presented based on player activity.

These best practices are informing a set of parameters for content creators, especially for dialog localization.

IESD is working on recommendations for mobile games.

For more convention presentations, photos, audio gear, etc. see: 135th AES NY Roundup

October 18, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Generations of Producers

Yesterday I took notes at an AES Panel titled Producing Across Generations: New Generations, New Solutions – Making Records for Next to Nothing in the 21st Century. This isn’t a transcript, just a collection of things that I found inspiring. Enjoy.

Moderated by Nick Sansano
Seated Left to Right, older to younger: Frank Filipetti / Bob Power / Craig Street / Hank Shocklee / Carter Matshullut / Jesse Lauter / Kaleb Rollins (K-Quick)

Carter Matshullut: Small labels can serve as taste-makers.

Bob Power: Limited resources often help make a record interesting.

Frank Filipetti: “You have to be scalable to survive.” “You have to temper budget with what got you into this business: the love of music.”

Hank Shocklee: I spent $12k on Fight the Power. “I never had any budget.” We would work 3am – 9am to get cheap rates. Chung King was used to record My Uzi Weighs a Ton. Your records are basically a flyer, a promo item to sell shows. “Whatever you don’t have is what fuels your creativity.” I sampled because I couldn’t afford a drummer. Technology is vital.

Frank Filipetti: Limitations force decisions… Sgt. Peppers sounds like it does because it was recorded on a 4 track. People are not being forced to make decisions so a mixer now must do that. The decisions caused by limitations informed the record. Making decisions early on – having that limitation – forces you to think and plan more about the sound of the record early.

Bob Power: Freshness and creative energy are important. You need to maintain the musician’s enthusiasm. Tedious work during tracking can kill the energy.

Craig Street: “Analog is really nothing but an attitude.” Give yourself limitations. Don’t do so much because you can. Do what the song needs. You’re just trying to capture a great performance.

Frank Filipetti: “Be really gear agnostic.” “There is no piece of gear that you have to have to make a record.” “It’s not the gear.” There isn’t anything you could buy for even $100 that couldn’t be used to make a great record.

Bob Power: You need to participate in artist development.

Frank Filipetti: You’ve got to have a video running during the recording session now too.

Hank Shocklee: “I never wanted to be a record producer. I only do what I like. And what I like, I see it through all the way to the end.”

Bob Power: Developing the broadest skill set that you can helps you survive and ultimately become a better practitioner.

Hank Shocklee: The mastering engineer is the key specialist now.

Kaleb Rollins: How can I do this on my own terms? I setup a recording studio in my dorm room and charged people. Early on we had to pay the bills so we took any session that came along just to pay those bills. When you can find good artists who actually have good money, that’s amazing.

Carter Matshullut: Branding is a big deal for younger producers, to come in and make things “cool.” There is the hustling side of it – studio in the dorm. Be able to answer the question: Why should I hire you?

Bob Power: People pay you for heart and sole. They want you to help them make their dreams come alive. Give more than the artist will give themselves.

Nick Sansano: Younger practitioners seem to have an innate sense of branding.

Carter Matshullut: Royalties are a distant hope in many genres. Sometimes producers take jobs because the project is cool and will get some buzz.

Hank Shocklee: “I’m hearing 808s in Country Records.” I want to do things like Baskin And Robbins where they put interesting things together.

Jesse Lauter: You gotta know if you are right for the job. “I knew I wasn’t the right person for the job.”

Frank Filipetti: I really admire the young people, how they go after everything. I am not a multi-tasker. “But I can concentrate like a motherfucker.” When your eyes are open, too much of your brain is used on visuals. I like to mix with my eyes close. “When someone pours their heart and sole into something there is really something to it.”

For more convention presentations, photos, audio gear, etc. see: 135th AES NY Roundup

Report from the 135 AES Convention in New York 2013

October 14, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Minimize Plosives

Two pop stoppers to minimize plosive in voice recordingThere are many ways to prevent plosives in voice recordings. My favorites are the simple ones. When I record voice my first two lines of defense are:
(1) Mic placement, and
(2) A low rolloff before compression.

A few weeks ago my friend and colleague Ethan Friedericks was recording a child actor. She was very professional and did a great job, but Ethan and I noticed some “p” popping despite good mic placement, a low rolloff, and a nylon covered pop filter. I’d heard of people using a second pop stopper, but never actually witnessed it. On a break we decided to try it, and it worked like a charm.

WHY DOES IT POP?
I find that choosing a technique has a lot to do with root causes; understanding why plosives happen can lead to a solution.

When we form P, T, and B letter sounds a gust of air leaves the mouth. Just put your hand in front of your mouth and feel the blast you create. Microphones convert moving air patterns into electrical patterns. The burst of air from P, T, and B sounds has significantly more force on the microphone element than other air vibrations made by a mouth. The sound of the air hitting the capsule is unnatural and distracting. With rare exception (beat boxing) plosives are undesirable.

The sound of the air alone usually isn’t too distracting or difficult to avoid. But another factor creates the real challenge: Proximity Effect. Directional microphone patterns — such as cardioid — overemphasize bass frequencies at close range. A gust of air up close can sound like a bomb going off, especially with a monitoring environment that allows listeners to hear the bottom octaves.

Most techniques for minimizing plosives either address the gust of air, or the exaggerated bass response of proximity effect. But there is one approach that deals with both: mic distance.

SUMMARY OF TECHNIQUES

  • Move the mic farther away from the mouth where the air blast is less powerful AND there is less proximity effect.
  • Place the mic out of the direct line of fire for air leaving the mouth, usually above or to the side.
  • Low rolloff before compression.
  • Typical pop stopper: nylon stretched over a ring. Some use two fabric layers with a gap between.
  • Variations of the nylon ring that use wire mesh, perforated metal plates, and other wind blocking materials.
  • Foam sock that slips over the mic, or is built into some mikes such as the Shure SM58.
  • Less directional mic pattern. Pops are almost impossible with omni mikes and can be used very closely.

Each of these approaches has audible side effects, so it’s nice to have options. As you may have noticed, I will often use several techniques at the same time. Happy voice recording!

UPDATE Oct 18:
Gary Terzza of VO Master Class provides this useful technique for placing a pop stopper for maximum effectiveness:
“Place your hand (palm facing towards you) between the pop shield and the mic and blow gently. Now move the popper slowly towards you while still blowing. Stop at the point you can no longer feel the breath. This is the optimum point at which the air is diffused, stopping those intrusive Ps and Bs.”

See also: Things to listen for when choosing a vocal mic by Ben Lindell

October 7, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Know What Your Job Is


I like this video for two reasons.
(1) The insight for actors is elegant and inspiring.
(2) It begs the question for the rest of us: what is the essence of your calling? For example, most people I work with don’t want to talk about audio gear, they just want confidence that I know how to use it to capture great performances.

Knowing the intrinsic value of your craft not only helps you do it well, it allows you to let go of insignificant things. Such an ability to shed distractions and focus on what’s important sounds like a good start on finding a little career fulfillment.


Bryan Cranston advice to other actors is good career advice to everyoneSee Also:
The Importance of Being Wrong
Hammer Everything
Pinterest: Actors

September 10, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Stephanie Sheh AT5040 / U87 Mic Comparison

Recordinghacks and Audio Technica put the new AT5040 microphone in my hands so we could hear how it sounded on some voices. For a fair comparison we recorded two microphones at the same time with a pristine signal path and no processing. But I wondered how things would change if I processed the voice recordings. Would it reveal greater contrast? Would new aspects be discovered?

Stephanie Sheh compares Audio Technica AT5040 and Neumann u87 u87Ai microphones

So I started with a template and adjusted things until it sounded good. Have a listen to these recordings of voice actor Stephanie Sheh after processing. Each time we hear the AT5040 followed by the Neumann u87Ai.

The difference in presence was most obvious to me in the projected read. At first the presence was the ear catching difference for the intimate read too, but then I noticed the low end change. While neither mic sounded especially sibilant to me, the 3k to 9k Hz range sounded more natural on the AT5040 across all reads. I think either one of these microphones might be a good choice on Stephanie’s voice depending on the project.

This comparison also available via YouTube.
Hear the unprocessed recordings of Stephanie and others.
Listen to other microphone comparisons.
More about voice processing.

August 14, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Kari Wahlgren Rocks

Ashley Kaye, Kari Wahlgren, Vickie Saxon, and Randy Coppinger
We were overjoyed with the way Kari Wahlgren brought the words to life:
Ashley Kaye (producer), Kari Wahlgren (voice), Vickie Saxon (wordsmith), and yours truly.

In studio with Kari Wahlgren, recorded on a Neumann m149 microphone
Kari sounds great on any microphone, so recording her with a Neumann m149 was icing on the cake. Kudos to engineer Nic Baxter (not pictured) at Igloo for another great recording session.