The Evolution of Audio

There was a time once where it was the standard to record a track with nothing but hardware. From an engineer’s perspective, the band would come in plugin. The engineer would then mic up the vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer based on the style demonstrated by the band. These tracks would then be routed though a massive console and outboard effects would be patched in via a patch-bay. The signal would then be routed to a tape machine for record and playback. If there were any errors, the band would have to do the take again. In those days recordings were great not only because the band was great but also due to the fact that they had to practice more in order to get the perfect take.

Fast forward to now and we have DAW software. The workflow for the most part continues on the same path as before with the exception of TAPE and plugins. The signal is routed to the console and from the console to the DAW software. From the DAW software the output channels are routed back to the console in order to enable playback. It is now up to the engineer to decide whether to record to tape or not. Many opt to do so as they claim that the tape enhances the sound.

In reality, all that is necessary to record a band are great microphones, A low latency audio interface with great preamps, with enough inputs/outputs and a reasonably powerful laptop. That is all that is needed. There have been many arguments over hardware vs. plugins that try to emulate that “analog” sound. But let us take this a step back without being over zealous in mentioning any names. In today’s age we have superior audio with a resolution of up to 192 kbps and 24 bit. We never had any where near that resolution with tape. Now that man have accomplished this massive feat, plugin manufactures are now placing the illusion that great mixes cannot be made without these “classic” hardware models. This is simply not true.

In simple terms: a compressor is a compressor, an eq is an eq, and distortion is distortion.

A compressor is designed with only one thing in mind, and that is to reduce dynamic range.

An equalizer was designed to accentuate favorable frequencies to better sculpt the audio spectrum. Anything else is distortion, which in many cases can prove to be unfavorable and yet quite favorable in some instances. I have experienced many different pieces of hardware and software used to emulate the corresponding hardware and I can confidently say that the differences are greatly exaggerated. A knowledgeable engineer can get a usable sound out of most compressors. Having said that the SSL 4000 Buss compressor and the 1176 are two excellent compressors. The 1176’s super fast microsecond attack time distorts the incoming signal, giving it a perceived “liveliness”. The SSL 4000 Buss compressor add life to a mix through the use of distortion as-well.

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A Take on Cheap Bluetooth Headphones

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Bluetooth headphones are the future of portable audio and one would be foolish to ignore their presence considering the wealth of high quality options available. The MPOW 059 Over-Ear bluetooth headphones are currently the best-seller on Amazon in their respective category and so I decided to give them a try. Here’s what happened…

Now, as a certified audio professional who mainly listens to and composes rock music, I can safely say that at this price point you are not going to get Sennheiser, Bose or Beats audio quality out-of-the-box (quite the opposite in fact). However, for the price these are useable headphones that are more than capable of providing decent audio quality (once the right adjustments are made). They require a bit of frequency gain reduction between 60-250Hz to reduce boom and a boost at around 16kHz to establish clarity. Once you’ve done that you’ll have a more balanced sound from these headphones.

The bluetooth volume controls, and battery status bar indicators of these headphones are natively supported on Android (but not on macOS.) In other words when you adjust the volume on your headphones it will directly adjust the volume control on your Android device. On the Mac the headphone’s volume is independent of macOS. Play/Pause and Skip buttons work natively on both platforms.

There are no latency issues when watching video. Lips move in sync with audio.

The MPOW 059 supports the SBC audio codec exclusively, which means no AAC or AptX is present. It would have been great to see support for AAC seeing as it is a superior codec to SBC but nonetheless sound quality is reasonable.

macOS users will need to download the “Hardware IO Tools for Xcode” from Apple’s developer page in order to get the “Bluetooth Explorer” application. This application will allow you to increase the bitpool value from its default value of 40 to 53. This will dramatically improve the audio quality of these headphones and any other bluetooth headphones that rely solely on the SBC codec. For those who want specifics: a bit pool value of 53 is equal to a bitrate of 325 kbps. SBC at 325 kbps is the equivalent of MP3 at 256 kbps. When the you’ve downloaded “Hardware IO Tools for Xcode” and have opened the Bluetooth Explorer app you will see the app’s name in your menubar. Go to “Tools > Audio Options” or “Command + Shift + A”. This will bring up the window for you to edit the SBC audio settings. Under “SBC Codec Options” Set all bitpool values to 53 and close the window. This will ensure that the audio quality remains optimal. Close the window and re-connect your Bluetooth headphones.

Build quality seems reasonable, hinges are reinforced with metal. Only time will demonstrate the endurance of these headphones but superficially speaking the headphones appear to be quite sturdy. The ear-cups and headband are made of a soft synthetic leather which provides initial comfort but they are a bit shallow in depth and can place a bit of pressure on the ears when the headset is worn for an extended period of time. Battery life is reasonable. Accessories include a micro-usb cable for charging and a 3.5 mm audio cable which is handy for more critical listening and for events in which the battery has lost its charge. The velvet-like pouch is a great inclusion and provides protection against dust and scratches. These headphones are definitely worth the price and I doubt you’ll find better at this price point.

Logic 10.3.2

 

AL LPX 10.3.2Apple fixed the GUI bug present in some of its Retina-Optimized instruments and plugins in LPX 10.3.2. For those who took notice, some of the stock Logic Pro X instruments and plugins produced an annoying graphical bug in regards to the number entry field when placed on any scale factor other than 100%.

Some of the plugins affected by this issue included: Retro Synth (in the screenshot above), Vintage B3, Vintage Clav, Vintage Electric Piano, Drum Kit Designer, Compressor, Channel EQ, Linear Phase EQ.

In the past: The blue halo that appears around the number entry field was distorted and out of place. That issue has now been resolved. The blue halo that appears around number entry field now complies with the scale factor of the plugin. Rock on Apple!

Studio Tips – Episode #1

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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.