Tag Archive for: music industry

Latency and the Quest for Tone

Last week was especially hectic and I did not have the opportunity to update this blog. One of the threads I was looking into last week was the quest to improve the current guitar rig that I use. I returned my Mesa Boogie F-50 for a Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue. Actually, I tried a Fender Custom Vibrolux first. The issue with both the Mesa and the Vibrolux is the significant hiss at idle. For my applications in the studio and on stage I cannot tolerate the level of hiss. With the 65 Deluxe I see some good points but there are several improvements that I need to make. Currently on the pedalboard:

  • Analog Man Juicer compression pedal
  • Analog Man modified Ibanez TS-9 distortion pedal
  • Boss NS-2 noise suppressor
  • Ernie Ball volume pedal
  • Fender stage tuner
  • Voodoo Labs Analog Chorus
  • Line Six DL 4 Delay Modeler

The TS-9 does not match well to the amp. A very solid-state distortion effect. This amp seems to match well with the Soldano Supercharger and Hughes & Kettner Tube Factor pedals. I’m going to try the Tube Factor since it’s a lot less noisy.

Some comments off the Harmony Central review section:

This amp has the best sounding, most soulful clean tone I’ve ever heard. Very sweet, soft compression when driven. I find myself playing through preamp one most of the time, though the reverb and vibrato channel is nice too, just a little more trebley. I usually run the treble down a bit, maybe around 4ish, and the bass up around 7.

Buy a Weber 12F150D speaker and install it. Buy some Electro Harmonix or NOS Philips tubes from thetubestore.com and install them (yes, ALL of the tubes). Re-bias the amp to spec. Enjoy your new amp!!!!!……… For about $200, plus the cost of the DRRI, you will have an amp that rivals the sound of many “boutique” amps that cost nearly twice as much! You MUST do these mods in order for this amp to sound its best. There are other mods (replacing caps, etc.) available on the web that will tweek the sound a bit more, but the above changes will provide at least a 200% improvement over the stock tone IMO.”

Beats Working

Spent about 6 hours yesterday doing mindless drum edits on a couple of songs. All the while I was thinking that I need to hire an assistant to do this kind of work. I still do not forget the days of tapes and razors but I also do not think we were quite as fussy about timing back then. I often spin pop CDs against the click and I am amazed at how many producers are working in bullet time. In some cases the drums are absolutely and totally locked. Which, of course, is not humanly possible. Oh the power of Pro Tools.

Young Talent These Days

We had a young player in the studio recently who demonstrated a certain level of arrogance. I suspect this is due to the prevalence of computer-based multitrack software. Armed with Cakewalk and a Shure SM-58 and anyone can become a fully qualified and experienced audio engineer. This made me think back to the many years I have spent trying to learn this craft. Over 25 years now and what strikes me more so today than ever before is the overwhelming body of knowledge much of which I still have to learn. Perhaps that is the difference as we age. We begin to understand that experience and wisdom really matters. I reassured this young player that I had a pretty good idea as to which microphones to use and where to point them. He played reasonably well.

Recent Events

The week-end was full of activity and I was unable to post until today. Session work on Saturday went well. I did live sound Sunday morning and then a performance at a contemporary worship service Sunday evening. The performance was great although I am still fighting the noise issue with my guitar rig. I did not get a chance to use a power conditioner to see if that would have an impact. I’m not even sure that my guitars are appropriately shielded and that may have an impact as well. I’ll try the power conditioner first as it is cheaper and less work then shielding a guitar.

Studio Design Website

This site is a good resource for anyone looking for help in building a recording studio. Our construction work took almost six months from concept to finished product. I cannot recall how many rolls of Roxul Safe and Sound insulation we used for the rooms but I do know that two people spent almost three days stuffing cavities with this material. Floating walls, floating floors, bass traps, staggered double stud wall, dual drywall panels, acoustic sealants, conduits, precision framing… so many details to consider when building a decent recording and monitoring space. John’s site has some great examples of studio projects. Worth a look.

Success with Pro Tools 6.4

Pro Tools 6.4 was successfully deployed. I had to upgrade the primary DAW to XP Service Pack 1 first. I run 9 computers on the network and the primary DAW is the only machine that has not been patched with SP1. This was a deliberate strategy on my part to ensure a stable platform for Pro Tools. The Service Pack installed successfully and I did some tests of the DAW to ensure that everything worked before moving on to the next stage. I downloaded 6.4 from the Digidesign site. 55MB download in 2 minutes. Really have to love high speed internet access. I also needed to download some updated plugins. Did the 6.4 install and firmware upgrades for the recorders. Everything worked fine except that I had to rediscover the Control 24 ethernet controller. All in all this was a painless experience. Years ago this was not the same story.


We are fortunate to work with a number of very talented musicians in the Toronto area. I am quite excited to have Fergus Marsh coming in to record at the studio. Fergus has an impressive discography which includes:

  • BRUCE COCKBURN: Stealing Fire, World of Wonders, Big Circumstance, Live
  • STEVE BELL: Romantics & Mystics, Live In Concert, Waiting For Aidan
  • BIG FAITH: Grounded, Undertow
  • HUGH MARSH: The Bear Walks, Shaking The Pumpkin
  • GLEN SODERHOLM: By Faint degrees
  • MERYN CADELL: 6 Blocks
  • YODECA: Yodeca
  • MARK HEARD: Dry Bones dance, Satellite Sky
  • MARY-KATHRYN: One Spirit
  • BILLY BATSTONE: A Little Broken Bread

Fergus Marsh is a bass and Chapman Stick player who has contributed to over 50 CDs. His work involves local gigs, television commercials, CDs and touring. He moves fluidly between both the Christian and secular arenas. Most recently he has just finished a tour with Peter Murphy of Bauhaus fame, and a worship CD with Ruth Fazal. Fergus is internationally recognized as one of the best players of the Chapman Stick. Fergus lives in Ontario with his wife Lynn and their son Luke. Fergus will be helping Cliff Cline on his current project. More information about Cliff Cline’s project can be found here.

Time for a Pro Tools Upgrade?

Time for yet another upgrade. I am at the point where I think I need to beef up the primary Studio DAW. The primary will then become the secondary for MIDI, GigaSampler, etc. At one time I used to enjoy the constant upgrading but now I find I am far more concerned about introducing change and impacting stability. A tough decision. With Pro Tools I usually stay pretty current. Here is a list of improvements in 6.4:

  • Support for ICON with D-Control* — Support for large format mixing and production
  • Support for the new Command|8** — A compact, affordable, yet full-featured control surface
  • AVoption|V10 support† — For interoperating with the latest Avid video formats
  • Automatic Delay Compensation* — Allows you to take advantage of mixer configurations that were previously only possible with analog consoles, or with digital consoles many times the price of a Pro Tools environment
  • TrackPunch* — Allows Pro Tools to be used as a recorder on film stages, rather than only an editing/playback device. For music, TrackPunch enhances current QuickPunch capabilities for music recording by allowing the user to arm tracks on the fly. Operators can punch in and out of tracks by using individual track record buttons instead of one global command. Combined with TrackInput*, TrackPunch allows workflows similar to traditional tape-based multi-track recorders
  • 23.976 fps support** — Enables post customers who work with high-definition video to use a new frame rate specific to the medium, facilitating proper synchronization to the source. Pro Tools now offers complete recall of all editing, processing, mixing console and machine control parameters while working entirely within the new 24 and 23.976 frame rates required for high-definition video production (DV Toolkit required for Pro Tools LE)
  • +12 dB fader gain — The new +12 dB** range above 0 dB in the fader section of the Pro Tools mixer gives you more latitude while mixing than the previous +6 dB (over 0 dBfs), particularly when balancing with recordings made at lower levels. With a new taper, the faders have a more familiar “console” feel
  • RecordLock* — Loading audio with discontiguous (“broken”) time code means that an assistant no longer has to continually re-arm Pro Tools when loading in different takes from film shoots. This also prevents missed record takes on shooting stages, where the distributed time code stops and starts between takes
  • Hierarchical plug-in menus** — Group plug-ins by process type, keeping mousing and searching for the right plug-in to a minimum
  • Track Position Numbers** — Gives each track a fixed sequential number, enabling operators to better organize sessions, as well as to quickly locate the GUI and control surfaces to a selected track
  • Improved Feet+Frames timeline display** — Allows film users to set the “zero feet+frames” point anywhere in the session; and, with multiple feet+frame rates, allows the feet+frames timeline to remain in sync with all workflow variations (DV Toolkit required for Pro Tools LE)
  • New Clip Meter Features — Plug-in clipping is now displayed on the D-Control worksurface and on the GUI send labels* for easy diagnosis of gain structure level problems while mixing. Plus, a new “clear clip” key command and a new “clip hold” preference provide additional display enhancements**
  • Foley record “Input Mute” feature* — Prevents unwanted loud noises during foley record sessions

Solid State Logic Control Surface

I have noticed an interesting trend taking shape. More manufacturers are introducing analog + control surface consoles. Digidesign has offered this type of technology for some time now but the high penetration of DAWs into all types of recording venues has increased market demand. I also think that the summing controversy still rages on… more on that topic another day.

Solid State Logic has introduced an $85,000 analog + control surface console for a number of different DAW platforms (e.g., Pro Tools, Nuendo). I could not find any information about the console on the ssl site however I did find a few posts strewn through the usual suspect recording forums. Charles Dye appeared to be the first one out with the information based on a note he received from a Guitar Center rep somewhere in the USofA. Here is the information that I have on the unit:

The AWS 900: An SSL Console

The AWS 900 is a compact SSL console, with all of the audio quality, robustness and advanced ergonomics that this implies. AWS 900 offers no-compromise audio performance, equivalent to SSL’s celebrated XL 9000 K Series mixing console which is a feature of major studios the world over.

The AWS 900 provides:

  • Legendary SSL sound quality
  • Identical SuperAnalogue technology to SSL’s flagship XL 9000 K Series console
  • Greater bandwidth than 192kHz recorders
  • 24 ultra low-noise dual impedance mic amps
  • 24 channels with twin curve SSL E and G Series 4-band parametric equalisation
  • Assignable SSL dynamics sections with gate, expander and compressor/limiter
  • G Series Stereo main mix buss compressor
  • Comprehensive 5.1 monitoring and Bass management
  • Complete tools for running zero latency tracking sessions
  • Highly flexible Cue/FX sends system with EFX reassign
  • Flexible ordering of channel processing
  • Balanced circuitry throughout
  • Metering on all console channels and main outputs

Integral DAW Control

DAW’s provide the power and convenience of recording and editing your audio, but a PC/Mac is not the most intuitive way to access these functions. AWS 900 provides an integrated solution by combining an outstanding console with SSL’s famed control surface ergonomics. The result is the first DAW control interface designed by SSL.

The AWS 900 provides:

  • Direct access to all major DAW mixing, editing and automation parameters
  • Direct control of Plug-In settings
  • Dedicated control CPU to maximise performance
  • Integral colour TFT display with dedicated control keys
  • User-definable controls on every channel
  • High quality motorised faders to write/replay level moves in your DAW
  • Simple switching between console and DAW control layer
  • Full remote control implementation
  • Operation independent of platform and works with ProTools, Nuendo, Logic Audio and many more

Buzz and Hum

The studio environment is misleading. There is such tight control over sound that the notion of errant noise in the form of buzzing and humming is unthinkable. Such noise does occur when musicians bring in their instruments. Amplifiers, drumkits, pickups can all present challenges with noise.

I spent a great deal of time improving my guitar rig. I have a number of stage guitars that I use but more often than not it is the Paul Reed Smith Custom 22 or the American Fat Strat that gets called into duty. The stage backline is usually a Mesa Boogie F-50 1×12 combo. The pedalboard contains an Ernie Ball volume pedal, Analog Man Juicer, Analog Man modified TS-9 Tube Screamer, Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor and Boss DD-6 Digital Delay. I carry a Shure SM-57 for the stage and I close mic the cabinet usually at the centre cone position.

This rig is very quiet in the studio. But some venues are very frustrating. Yesterday I was on a stage where the incessant buzzing was driving me crazy. I found a useful website on guitar noise just to see whether I was missing something obvious: why was the rig whisper quiet in the studio and buzzing like crazy on stage?

I suspect that part of the issue is the power supply and part of the issue is airborne. This stage has a large lighting rig where the power source is being shared with the stage outlets. I am looking seriously at power conditioning as a way to reduce the harsh buzzing sound.

The quest for tone never ends.

Mission Accomplished

I was back in session last night. We tracked an upright bass and captured some excellent tones. I heard back from the bassist this morning and he gave me some feedback on his experience: “Thanks again for the opportunity to record in your studio. I was buzzed all the way home with the tone you got from my upright. I could practice in that room all day!” This was a paid session so I always am pleased when session players provide such comments. My own view is that all I needed to do was step back and keep out of his way and make sure, as a recordist, that I captured the essence of the performance.

Bose and the Extinction of the Sound Engineer

I got into a bit of a discussion with a producer last night on the innovative Bose system that is being heavily marketed these days. As you can see from the picture on the left, it is quite the unique looking sound system. The Personalized Amplification System is a speaker system that provides sound for both musicians and their audience. Simultaneously.

Bose claims that this system resolves most of the major challenges associated with live sound. Mix levels, monitor levels, distribution of sound to the listener… but elimination of sound engineers is absent on their site. They also do not seem to be taking the live sound market by storm as there are a few too many extravagant claims without direct experience. But this is hardly surprising coming from the company that promises high fidelity sound through a plastic box “Wave Radio”.

Here is some of the background from the Bose site:

The L1 Cylindrical Radiator loudspeaker is the core of this system. Its unique pole-shaped design projects sound evenly across the stage and into the audience. Since the sound from these speakers diminishes so gradually, volume levels stay much more consistent for musicians and audience members. And its wide dispersion pattern, nearly 180 degrees, means everyone on stage and in the house experiences full, clear sound without unwanted distortion.

The PS1 Power Stand supports the L1 Cylindrical Radiator loudspeaker and houses all electronics and controls, including dozens of presets to help you get the sound you want from your instrument.

The R1 Remote Control puts control back in the hands of the musician. Mount it on a microphone stand, a music stand or wherever it’s most convenient. It includes a master volume control, as well as tone and volume controls for two input channels.

The B1 Bass Module produces deep, punchy bass for instruments with a lot of low end, like bass, keyboards and kick drum. It connects to the PS1 Power Stand with a single cable.

With a single L1 loudspeaker for each musician, there’s no need for monitors, PA speakers, mixing boards or backline amps. You’re free from the problems that go along with the old way of doing things.

An autopilot for musicians? No more sound engineer? I’m not convinced but I would like to hear this system. With all of the hundreds of articles I read on live sound installation I have not come across a major hall committing to this platform. It may be for the small hall/small club scene.

Good Friday Noise

I did live sound this morning at church. I have had a running issue with the noise level of the HVAC in the main sanctuary for a while now. This morning the HVAC was keeping about 67db on the trusty old SPL meter. By way of reference, I often have a challenge to get the wireless mic much above 67db before feedback. The pastor was particularly quiet this morning which meant I was working from a negative position on the noise floor. What was more frustrating? I could not get the HVAC guy to agree to shut the thing down for the 15 minutes or so that the pastor was giving his message. Coupled with the usual chaos of live sound work I found myself missing the warm cocoon of the studio control room. Live sound does provide an adrenaline rush but maybe I am getting too old for all of the stress. Or maybe I shouldn’t care so much about the quality of sound.

I do care very much about the incredible significance of Good Friday and the sacrifice that was made for all of us. I think the service, despite the noise levels and the relative chaos behind the board, was a very powerful witness to this life changing event.