Logic Pro 10.4

AL LPX 10.4

Logic Pro has been instrumental in the audio production process for Alexander Lindo. The application has seen many significant updates throughout the years with the most noticeable one occurring at version 10. In Logic Pro 10, we saw a release with a complete redesign. Apple has continued to add new features and refinements though incremental updates. Some were significant, while others where simply bug fixes and refinements. The release of 10.4 is a significant one.

In Logic Pro X 10.4 we see the addition of some great vintage plugins as well as facelifts to other studio essentials. Alexander is most fond of the inclusion of the new Neve and Pultec EQ emulations. As mentioned before in a previous article, the 1073 is one the most sought after Preamps / EQs in the music industry and are present on countless international hits. In Alexander Lindo’s own words “Running vocals through a 1073 is a wonderful experience” and this is no different with LPX’s new “Vintage Console EQ” plugin.

LPX 10.4 - Neve

In the “Vintage Tube EQ” we see the EQP-1A and MEQ-5 in all their glory. The EQP-1A is a Tube-styled EQ containing a low shelf boost/cut, high bell boost and a high shelf attenuator. This eq is famously known for its ability to boost and cut at the same frequency and due to their slight imperfections you can achieve some unique sounds. The MEQ-5 accompanies the EQP-1A for some midrange functionality. Both EQs manage to achieve significant adjustments while maintaining a audible bliss, it is this very reason why many top mastering engineers use them when mastering. The drive knob adjusts the intensity of the “color” introduced to the audio passing through the plugin. A word of note: All three new EQs introduce a latency of 261 samples (5.9 ms) and are therefore more suited for the mixing/ mastering stage.

LPX 10.4 - Pultec

The wonderful Space Designer (Logic Pro’s convolution reverb) has received a facelift…

LPX 10.4 - Space Designer

…and Apple has added an algorithmic reverb by the name of “ChromaVerb”.

LPX 10.4 - ChromaVerb

Both plugins sound great!

If there is any feature that Alexander had wished Apple included in this release it is the ability to hide loops from the loop browser and drummers from the Library that have not been downloaded. Logic Pro X currently allows you to hide library presets that have not been downloaded but the same does not apply to loops or drummers. Alexander Lindo is not a heavy preset, “drummer” or loop user as he prefers to build his sounds from scratch. Having the option to hide “drummers”, and loops that have not been downloaded would be a welcome addition. Other than that he is quite happy with this release and look forward to the future. Rock on Apple!

There are a lot of new features present within this release and more details can be found in the release notes here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT203718

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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. Alexander Lindo has experienced many different pieces of hardware and software used to emulate the corresponding hardware and he 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 and consistency to a mix through the use of distortion as-well.

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.

AM/FM Comp

The FET compressor from Softube is quite a unique-looking 1176 emulation. Judging from its controls we can clearly see that it is a compressor however we can also see that the interface was modeled after a high end AM/FM receiver. The interface is indeed quite interesting with the exception of two LEDs: “AM/FM” and the “Remote” LED which serves no purpose in Logic Pro. Today I show you how to remove the “AM/FM” LEDs from the Softube FET Compressor.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

 

  1. First go to “Macintosh HD > Library > Audio > Plug-Ins > Components > FET Compressor
  2. Right click and select “Show Package Contents”.
  3. Head to the “Resources” folder under the “Contents” folder
  4. Copy the “402.png” file to your desktop
  5. Open it in a program like Pixelmator, GIMP or Photoshop
  6. Use the Clone tool to copy the black adjacent to the disabled LEDs and gently erase the “AM/FM” and “Remote” LEDs from the interface. (Make sure the “Clone” tool is set to 100% opacity.)
  7. When your done, export the new “402.png” file back to the desktop
  8. Place this new file in the resources folder I discussed in point number 3.
  9. When you’ve re-opened the plugin in your DAW it should look like “Figure 2”

Please note, that these changes can overthrown by re-installing the FET Compressor.

Red 2 & 3

 

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, Alexander Lindo was rather impressed with them. Aside from the beautiful and realistic graphical user interface, the sound that he produced while using them was truly remarkable.

Red 2 EQ: Alexander 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. Alexander will always love VU meters, to the point where, if they are not present on the hardware, then he 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, Alexander placed the Red 3 Compressor on the Drum Sub-master and 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, he then proceeded to bring down the threshold parameter. At this point you can 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, Alexander 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 (of course instead of using the mix knob you could just raise the threshold). The result was a solid sounding drum kit.

Placing the compressor on the bass and guitar parts yielded similar results. Using the EQ, Alexander 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. He 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. On the topic of pumping: Alexander says that he would have loved to see a key input option provided.

Alexander progressed towards the lead vocal for my single entitled “Hurt” of which he had originally used stock Logic EQ and Compressor. 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), Alexander 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, he progressed with a 1 to 2 dB boost at around 1.2 kHz in order to gain legibility in the mix.

Alexander 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, he 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. Alexander continued adjusting to taste. After  he was satisfied, he 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 Alexander 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, he enabled Low-Latency mode in preparation of the event, that these plugins created any latency. Alexander Lindo can confirm that these plugins induce no latency whatsoever. 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.

Alexander 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 he 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 he 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 Alexander 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 introduce no-latency and do not require a dongle to run, which is always a plus in Alexander’s 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.

Scheps 73

Scheps 73

History

The Neve 1073 is a critically acclaimed microphone preamplifier and 3 band equalizer module established by the legendary Rupert Neve in the year of 1970. It was originally designed for the 28 channel A88 console at Wessex Studios. Although later succeeded in 1973 by the 1084 module designed for the 8048 console, the 1073 remains an industry staple to this very day.

The Neve 1073 consists of a high shelf fixed at 12kHz, a frequency selectable bell curve for the mid band, a low shelf with selectable frequencies of 35, 60, 110, and 220 Hz. To iron that all out it adds a high pass filter with fixed options of 50, 80, 160, and 300 Hz. The Neve 1073 is the preamplifier most commonly used on vocals, as it is well known that due to its transformer based design it imposes subtile harmonic distortion that can remove harshness and thicken audio passed through it when pushed. A Neve 1073 in hardware form currently costs around $3500.

The Scheps Test

Taken from what looks to be a Neve BCM 10 console at Andrew Scheps’s studio in Van Nuys, California, Waves have claimed to painstakingly module each and every detail of the 1073 module. While the chosen selectable frequencies, mid frequency bell curve, high shelf, low shelf and high pass filter configuration all have the utmost influence on the “sound” produced by the 1073, harmonic distortion plays a significant role in the process. This is what will be demonstrated today. On an important note, Alexander will not be testing the pre-amplifier in the “Drive” mode setting or comment on the additional 10kHz band present on the mid band equalizer section as those properties are not present (in functioning form) on the hardware unit. Alexander will only be demonstrating the harmonic distortion characteristics of this preamplifier in its Line and Mic mode stages.

To conduct this test an oscillator emitting a sine wave at 800Hz was placed on a mono audio track followed by the Scheps 73 plugin, and the Blue Cat frequency analyzer at the end. The Blue Cat frequency analyzer was chosen because of its ability to display content all the way down to -120dB. Waves did not model the volume of the preamp, only the harmonic distortion. Separate Input and Output faders (not shown in collapsed view) are provided for that purpose.

Starting at its default setting (0dB Line Level) we can see that not much is going on, only a harmonic at 1.6 kHz.

Scheps 73 Pre at Line 0db

At setting 60 (Mic level) we can see some rich harmonics being added to the signal. You can guess what happens at setting 80. 

scheps-73-pre-at-mic-60db.jpg

At setting -20 (Line Level) we also get added harmonics though (as to be expected) not as much as received with the Mic Level position. 

scheps-73-pre-at-mic-20db.jpg

Conclusion

Does the Scheps 73 provide an accurate representation of the 1073 microphone preamplifier? That is for you to decide. Vintage gear of the same make and kind tend to have subtile differences, however for the most part will sound similar enough to be classified under their respective headings. It is therefore a more correct approach to ask “Does this piece of equipment (in this case a plugin) provide you with the tools necessary to complete the said task?” In support of the previous statement, do not use a 1073 simply because of its legendary status, use it because it provides you with the means necessary to create the “sound” you are going for. At the end of the day, it is all about the sound.

This is not the equalizer to use when you need to fix the source. This equalizer is to be used simply for the enhancement of a well recorded source. For a more surgical equalizer do check out the H-EQ by Waves.

Ubuntu & Audio Production

Hollywood

Introduction

Music is one of the most vital industries in our world today. Music builds us and helps shape us into the persons we are today and the persons we will be tomorrow. It is therefore extremely important to have an environment that ensues productivity. When people think audio production, people think Mac / Logic or Mac / Pro Tools. Audio production on Linux has been for the most part a stable experience but is not without its caveats.

On a Mac, you turn it on, fire up Logic and get to work. Couple it with a class complaint audio interface and everything flows from there. On Ubuntu Linux, you can achieve similar results, but if you are not careful you will often be greeted with varying opinions and recommendations about which distribution you should use in order to achieve the best performance. This can make it more difficult for new users that it has to be. In this article Alexander Lindo will do his best to be up front and tell you to use vanilla Ubuntu with its default desktop environment known as Unity.

Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux distributions available and is therefore well supported. You do not need an “audio focused” distribution in order to achieve optimal performance. However if you do have a computer that is low on memory, then Alexander recommends that you use Xubuntu. Xubuntu is a variant of Ubuntu Linux with a lighter desktop interface called XFCE. Linux has always and still commands over 90% of the server world with the likes of companies such as Red Hat, SUSE and more recently Ubuntu being the beneficiaries of this competent market share. It is no surprise considering the fact that when you need a platform that is secure, fast and stable there is no comparison to Unix/Linux (Linux is based on Unix).

In addition to its security the Unix/Linux platform has always been known to be the most efficient with its resources, hence the reason of it powering a variety of devices such as those running iOS & Andriod. It also powers motor vehicles, Smart TVs among many others. It is the driving force behind GoogleAmazonFacebook and many other businesses. It is these same reasons why Apple’s Unix-based operating system known as OS X is currently the main platform recognized by the entertainment industry. If you are doing audio/video production on a professional level it is recommended that you own a Mac.

With that said, the state of audio/video production on the Linux platform has been improving significantly over the years, with JACK (The real-time audio framework) receiving many bug fixes, along with application support from commercial products such as Bitwig Studio and Lightworks Video Editor. It will only be a matter of time before others make it to the platform. Now that we have completed the introduction, it is now time to turn ourselves over the specifics.

JACK

To record music on Ubuntu Linux, you must have QJackCtl (aka QT JACK Audio Connection Kit Control). And a class complaint USB audio interface (Fire-wire interfaces are supported as well, Google is your friend). The JACK software enables you to record audio at the lowest latency possible, while giving priority to audio related tasks. It is the equivalent to ASIO drivers on Windows with “ReWire-like” functionality to boot. The Mac is not mentioned here as it uses CoreAudio which was designed for low latency audio tasks from the get go. Ubuntu Linux uses ALSA as its default sound server. PulseAudio provides a means for applications to interact with the ASLA sound server and is thus placed on top of it. Think of PulseAudio as a bus that carries audio for all your non-professional audio needs like listening to music from Tomahawk Media Player or watching movies from YouTube. PulseAudio handles these tasks exceptionally well, where it falls short however is when it comes to professional low latency audio monitoring. This is where JACK comes into play. When you activate JACK, PulseAudio is bypassed and all priority is given to JACK (professional) enabled applications. By default this will also disable all audio activity from PulseAudio related applications. This should not be an issue as you never run other applications in conjunction with your DAW. However, if you require this functionality, it can be remedied by installing the pulseaudio-module-jack from the Ubuntu Software Center (The equivalent to the Mac App Store on OS X). This module will enable the PulseAudio sound server to route itself to JACK, when it is enabled. Allowing you to still use PulseAudio based applications but instead, having them routed through JACK.

Audio Interface

When purchasing an audio interface for Mac OS X or Ubuntu Linux it is always best to purchase one that is “class-compliment. This simply means that the device does not require any special drivers to function, in other words, when you plug it in it should “just work”. The majority of class-complaint audio interfaces should “just work” with Ubuntu Linux, but there are a few that Alexander Lindo recommends: Focusrite Scarlett 2i22i4, or M-Audio M-Track Eight. He recommends these audio interfaces as (in addition to being class complaint) they do not require any special/proprietary software to control/configure their settings (it can be all done right from the hardware device). A more comprehensive list of compatible audio interfaces are available at wiki.linuxaudio.org

MIDI Keyboards

Look for class-compliant MIDI keyboards and you should not run into issues. M-Audio wins this round again. Check out the Axiom and Oxygen series.

DAWs

In regards to DAWs we have: ArdourMixbus and Bitwig Studio. After sifting through various audio applications Alexander can confirm that these are currently the most solid audio applications available on the Linux platform.

Ardour

Ardour, created by Paul Davis and his team in the past received funding from both SSL (Solid State Logic) and SAE institute for the development of this DAW. Development has come a long way and progress continues to be made in this department. It is best integrated with JACK Transport, enabling seamless synchronization with other audio applications such as the Hydrogen Drum Machine. Ardour exposes all available channels to JACK and thus enables you to route anything anywhere. It also provides post production support using Xjadeo. Ardour + the CALF plug-in suite are great companions. Be sure to install Ardour from its website, as the one present in the Ubuntu Software Center may be outdated.

Mixbus

Mixbus is packaged and maintained by Harrison Consoles, creators of legendary analogue consoles used by countless audio professionals to record the likes of bands such as Queen, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. Mixbus is based of Ardour and thus provides you with basic Ardour functionality, but in addition to this you are provided an entire virtual analogue console in which to to work. Each channel strip is a console channel strip, complete with filter, equalizer, compressor and gate. The channel strips have also been modeled to operate like their hardware counterparts and thus is said to provide you with rich lush sound. Mixbus supports LV2 and LinuxVST plugins on the Ubuntu platform. The company also provides plugins which are available for purchase from the Mixbus website.

Bitwig Studio

Bitwig Studio is aimed at music composition, it provides a decent repository of sounds, clips and loops. It comes with great sounding instruments and plug-ins out of the box. It also features a Clip launcher, useful for getting ideas down and testing them out before committing. Bitwig Studio takes features from Ableton Live and Logic Pro and merges them into its DNA.

In addition to the above, the Trackton DAW is also available for use, although it is currently in beta.

 

Plugins

If you are looking for quality professional plug-ins to go with your setup, sadly you will not find any plugins from Waves. Alexander hopes that this changes in the future but until then he recommends visiting OverToneDSP.co.ukLoomer.co.uk. Loomer has a great sounding synth by the name of Aspect, be sure to check that out. OverToneDSP.co.uk feature plug-ins which model analogue hardware such as the Fairchild 670. The hardware in JJPs own words makes material sound “long and luscious”. While the plug-ins provided by OverToneDSP is modeled on a different unit, he doubts that the sound would be far off. Do install the Guitarix AMP simulator LV2 plug-in suite from your software repositories if you are looking for an amp sim. When you have installed QjackCtl you may be saddened by its low resolution icon (or if you are coming from the Windows platform you may not even notice). If it becomes a nitpick be sure to follow Alexander’s article on “Upgrading your Icons” to solve that.