Studio Tips – Episode #1

alstudiotips1

Music is an art-form. It builds, strengthens and enhances the human life. It is built with the purpose of delivering a message. It is therefore extremely important to ensure that (as artists, producers, and engineers) our message is delivered in the most accurate way possible. In the “Studio Tips” series I discuss methods on how to enhance the experience and delivery of “the song”. Enjoy!

Location

Ensure your environment is optimal as an uncomfortable environment will leave you with a poor performance. Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, what you do, both as an artist and as a person. Do not be quick to “take what you get”, as you always have options. Never let anyone make you think that you don’t have options. If you are unhappy with the situation it is bound to show.

Preparation

If your intention is to record, make sure that you have adequately practiced the material before hand. Magic can and may happen in the studio but it is always best to prepare. If you are a singer ensure that you are hydrated, as failure to do so may leave you with some dry sounding vocals. If you are a guitarist ensure that your guitar is properly tuned and that you have at least 2 extra set of strings available. Other than failure to prepare it can be equally disconcerting when the performer is unable to record a take due to technical difficulties. If you are the producer/engineer set up your project with plugins that introduce the least amount of latency / CPU usage during tracking / recording.

The Message

Vocals / Lyrics are the most important part of every song (that contains vocals). They tell the story, and you want them to shine to the best of their ability. Be sure that your engineer is providing you with a space carved out just for you. Listen to the mix. If you cannot hear yourself clearly when the music is playing, you will be shouting above the mix and this is never recommended. The same goes for performing live. If you cannot hear yourself, you will not perform correctly. It is therefore extremely important to get the balance right, before you open up.

Happy Birthday Rupert Neve

Rupert Neve

It is an honor to celebrate the 90th birthday of the legendary Rupert Neve, the visionary responsible for establishing some of the industry’s greatest pieces of audio equipment. A man who followed his dream and continues to do so till this day. Rupert has been and continues to be a massive influence in the way we create, mix and consume audio. In honor of this legend here are some of his career highlights.

The Beginning

The 1073 is a product that almost everyone in the audio industry swears by. Originally built in the year of 1970 as an upgrade for the A88 console at Wessex Studio, the 1073 remains one of the worlds most favorite microphone preamplifier and equalizer modules till this very day. This preamplifier / equalizer has been cloned far more than any other piece of audio equipment and due to its massive success, Rupert Neve continues to provide us with the option of using its most favorable characteristics in his most current products.

NECAM

Rupert Neve invented NECAM (Neve Computer Assisted Mixdown) which was the first motorized fader automation mechanism. This technology was released in 1977 after Rupert’s departure of Neve Electronics.

Focusrite

In 1985 he was commissioned by Sir George Martin to build a 16 channel sidecar which would be fitted with customized modules for his Neve console at the Air Montserrat studio. Neve invented the ISA 110 preamplifier/equalizer along with the ISA 130 VCA compressor under his new company “Focusrite” these modules were released to the world in 1987. They were an instant success. Focusrite was sold later on to Phil Dudderidge in 1989.

Rupert Neve Designes

Today we have Rupert Neve Designs. Established in 2005 Rupert Neve Designs is well known for their Portico series processors along with their 500 series processors. The 511 module is currently their best selling microphone preamplifier. The 5088 console which features Rupert’s legendary transformer-based design is one of the most beautiful consoles ever made.

Conclusion

From the 1073 preamp and equalizer the to the gorgeous 5088 Rupert Neve Designs console. Rupert is one of the most talented and ambitious innovators to have graced the audio industry. I have great respect and regard for Rupert Neve and look forward to what he plans to show us in the future. Happy Birthday Rupert and thank you for enhancing our lives with all of your wonderful creations. The list above is not intended to be elaborate as there are more accomplishments on record. For an even more elaborate look at the innovations of this legend visit rupertneve.com

-Alexander Lindo

Focusrite Red 2 & 3 In-Depth Look

 

AL Red 2 & 3 In-Depth

The Red Range was established in the year of 1994 by Focusrite. Both hardware units inherit the sound and circuit design of their predecessors from the ISA range of processors.

The Red 3 is a compressor was built as an outboard successor to the ISA130 compressor module built by Rupert Neve for Sir George Martin’s console at Air Studios London. This compressor is famously known for maintaining mix intelligibility, even in the event of significant compression. Due to its simple and intentional VCA circuit design, this compressor is well suited for a variety of sound sources.

Focusrite has continued on with the philosophy of providing  microphone pre-ampfliers that are accurate with the least amount of artificial colouration possible. Where many audio companies today seem to create equipment that purposefully imposes harmonic distortion onto the signal being passed through it, this has never been the aim for the folks at Focusrite.

The Red 2 EQ and Red 3 Compressor had no measurable distortion as evidenced in their specification sheets and thus you will not find any present in their plugin counterparts. In addition to near zero distortion, these pieces of equipment also had a lot of headroom available to them thus making distortion due to overdriving them near impossible to do.

The Red 2 EQ and Compressor plugins come bundled with the purchase of any Scarlett, Claret, RedNet, or Safire audio interface and are also available for sale via the Focusrite website.
After testing these plugins must say that I was rather impressed with them. Aside from the beautiful and realistic graphical user interface, the sound that I produced while using them was truly remarkable.

Red 2 EQ: I placed the Red 2 EQ on a Kick Drum, shaved off some lows using the low pass filter, boosted some lows at around 60 Hz while taking out some of the boom using the low-mid bell filter with a medium bandwidth. The result was a more solid and punchy kick. Using this graphical representation of the hardware piece always re-enforces what great joy it is to use hardware, due to its knobs and VU meters. I will always love my VU meters, to the point where, if they are not present on the hardware, then I probably will not buy it. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, for example in the event of the audio interface: most use LED meters, but non-the-less VU meters are definitely preferred.

Red 3 Compressor: After achieving an adequate balance of the drum kit, I then placed the Red 3 Compressor on the Drum Sub-master. I set the ratio at 4:1 with a fast attack and fast release. First ensuring that all levels were correct on the way in to the compressor as to prevent clipping, I then proceeded to bring down the threshold parameter. I could start to hear the aggression kick in, as to be expected with compression, however the aggression that this compressor provided was one of the pure kind. The sound remained solid and took a bit of an effort to became grainy. After receiving a reasonable amount of compression, I then proceeded to adjust the mix knob to taste, in order to bring back the dynamics of the drum kit that were lost due to compression. The result was a solid sounding drum kit.

Placing the compressor on the bass and guitar parts yielded similar results. Using the EQ, I was able to bring out some mid-range on the guitar parts, further adding to their character. Placing the compressor on synth parts led to a slightly more aggressive sound and one that remained full. I was careful not to overdo it as to prevent the pumping effect from occurring. Due to the extensible attack (0.300ms to 90ms) release times (0.1second to 4 seconds), setting this compressor to taste was no problem. In the topic of pumping: I would have loved to see a key input option provided.

I progressed towards the lead vocal for my single entitled “Hurt” of which I originally had the stock Logic EQ and Compressor on. Up first was the EQ, The vocals were recorded using a condenser microphone, recorded through the preamplifier of the Scarlett audio interface. Both the microphone and the audio interface have a relatively flat frequency response and near zero THD (Total Harmonic Distortion). Using the high shelf filter at around 12 kHz (the 1073 frequency) I turned the high end up only about 2 dB in order to increase presence within context of the mix. It did indeed provide a sound unique to this equalizer. A somewhat airy effect, however subdued it may be. After removing some lows, I progressed with a 1 to 2 dB boost at around 1.2 kHz in order to gain legibility in the mix.

I then placed the Red 3 Compressor on the vocal with a fast attack and a fast release. With a ratio of 4:1 and an optimum level, I began to bring down the threshold just until the sound was relatively constant. This was not at all difficult to achieve as compression began will little to no artifacts. I continued adjusting to taste. After was satisfied, I placed a second Red 3 Compressor on the vocal. This time with a medium attack and release. In this scenario, The first compressor is used to level the peaks and the second one is used to smooth them out. The results were as reasonable as one would expect. The voice remained clear, consistent and true to the source with out any sign of distortion.

For the fun of it I decided to lay down an additional vocal take with both the Red 2 EQ and the Red 3 Compressor instantiated. With a buffer size of 64 samples, I enabled Low-Latency mode in preparation of the event, that these plugins created any latency. I am glad to say, that this was not the case. This increases their value in the recording and tracking department. CPU load was placed at a minimum as well, leading one to conclude that these are indeed well coded.

I placed the EQ and Compressor on supporting vocal tracks and set them to taste in order to better evaluate the mix with their presence. After I was satisfied with the vocal mix, It was finally time to move on to the stereo master. Starting with a moderate ratio, medium attack and fast release I listened to the already well balanced mix come together in a beautiful fashion. This compressor has a way of making elements even smother than they already were. The compressor was definitely doing a great job.

Red 2 EQ and Red 3 Compressor are what I would consider to be an underrated pair of plugins that deserve attention (even if you do not own a Focusrite audio interface). If not only for their vivid appearance but also for the clean, transparent and full “character” they impart on your mix. In addition, these plugins do not require a dongle to run, which is always a plus in my book. The Red 3 Hardware Compressor has received praise from the likes of Chris Lorde-Alge who uses it on every mix.

If you are looking for the current hardware incarnation of the Red 2 EQ and Red 3 Compressor your best bet would be to check out the ISA 430 MKII Channel Strip from Focusrite. While it is not entirely similar, this remains the most current, favorable and enhanced reproduction of the original ISA 110 eq module and 130 compressor module originally designed by Rupert Neve, of which the Red 2 and 3 are based. The ISA 430 can be seen in the possession of top producers / engineers like Pharrell Williams and Damian Taylor and Adrian Bushby.