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.

H-Comp Review

alHCmpReviewHaving worked with various compressors throughout one’s career, one comes to learn the various characteristics of these different units. Some are known for aggression, Some are known for their lush body, and others can go from clean to aggressive in no time. This plugin aims to provide you with the “best of all worlds”.

The H-Comp aka Hybrid Compressor is not an emulation of a classic compressor but instead it takes the harmonic distortion characteristics of vintage equipment from the likes of SSL, API and Neve and merges them with the diversity of signal processing within the digital realm.

Lets get started shall we…

Analog

This knob provides us with various types of harmonic distortion emulated from their respective hardware counterparts. For a visual test, Alexander Lindo placed the Test Oscillator emitting a 1000Hz sine wave at the first insert, followed by an H-Comp, and then the Blue Cat Frequency Analyzer. This will give us a better visual representation of what is taking place. At the end of the day it is all about the sound. 

Up on first instantiation, it can be seen that the plugin induces a latency of 64 samples when used in a session running at 44.1kHz. This equates to a latency of 1.5ms. While this is perfectly usable in a live situation, you’d be advised not to stack too many of them as the latency will become audible.

Starting with the “Off” position.

H-Comp 001 Analog OffAs we can see from the screenshot above …this compressor can be relatively clean with minimal distortion added to the signal.

Analog 1

H-Comp 002 Analog 1

Here we can see a somewhat smooth distortion pattern, with slight low frequency boost. Harmonics at the 2kHz, and 3.5kHz region appear to be most prevalent in this mode. Playback through this mode was quite clean with little to no audible distortion. This led Alexander to believe that this mode is emulating the Neve.

Analog 2

H-Comp 002 Analog 2

Based on analysis above, Analog 2 appears to be quite similar to Analog 1 with the exception of some faint white noise in the upper end of the spectrum. Harmonics exist on the 2Khz and 3.5kHz frequencies with an inversion in their amplitude. In Alexander’s listening test, placing the H-Comp on entire mix while in this mode gave him a sound most reminiscent of the SSL 4000G bus compressor. The mix became a little more solid, while elements like cymbals came across with a gritty but gentle distortion.

Analog 3

H-Comp 004 Analog 3

This is the most aggressive out of the three as you can see from the image above. This one is not playing around. As you switch to this mode, you can instantly hear a change in the tonality of the sound. This mode appears to give the mix more depth. Harmonics are mainly within the high mid frequency range.

Analog 4

H-Comp 005 Analog 4

Distortion in this mode was lush sounding with a slight distortion present on the tail end of notes. You can also see a decrease in the lower mid range to lower frequencies.

It is amazing to think that in the past most manufacturers were aiming for minimal THD (total harmonic distortion) in their designs. Now in this day and age it is considered the pinnacle of  their establishments. The term “in-the-box” is often associated with terms such as “sterile” and flat sounding. Many engineers believe till this day that these consoles add the magic touch necessary to give the mix more life. This plugin claims to provide the best of all worlds and Alexander say’s that the H-Comp definitely proves to be a hybrid.

On to the other stuff…

The H-Comp introduces a latency of 64 samples (1.5ms) which makes it possible to use while tracking, just don’t go stacking them unless you’re in the mix/mastering stage.

Ignoring parameters commonly known to the compressor, we have a knob called “Punch” and it does exactly that. Turning the knob clock-wise causes the compressor to let more transients through, regardless of the attack time set.

We have Sync control, which allows us to adjust the release time of the compressor based on the tempo (beats per minute) of the song, Great when you’re going for accuracy. And of course you are also provided the old-school with the option to have it work in milliseconds (MS).

We have a Mix knob enabling us to parallel compress audio on the fly without having the need to create a separate aux channel strip to buss a copy of the signal to. Very handy indeed.

There is a button marked “Limiter” but in Alexander’s testing, he found that it did not affect the signal in anyway. The H-Comp’s limiter appears to be active regardless of this button’s status.

Alexander Lindo placed the H-Comp on the Drum Sub Master and hit play on the transport. It provided instant gratification before even tweaking the knobs. Adjusting it to a medium attack and a short release, Alexander was able to get a lot of punch out of the kit. While listening he watched the channel strip meter in Logic and adjusted the Output knob on the H-Comp, bypassing and un-bypassing the plugin to make sure that he was not being fooled by the perceived loudness that normally takes place in automatic make-up gain situations. He was not fooled at all, though to be expected, the plugin did boost the signal ever so slightly.

Having said that, the sound coming through the H-Comp was noticeably fuller and richer in comparison to the dry signal. Using Analog 4, Alexander was able to hear more ghost notes from the drum kit. His next move was to try it out on the bass, normally 1176 territory, then again the 1176 sounds great on just about anything (but you probably should not go about putting over your entire mix). The H-Comp shined when inserted on the bass, especially when cranking the Output knob. Of course the increased gain was compensated for by using the stock “Gain” plugin provided with Logic Pro. The H-Comp is indeed a joy to use, check it out for yourself.