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pre-EQ coaching please

Discussion in 'Studio Techniques' started by peterlemer, Jun 23, 2010.

  1. peterlemer

    peterlemer Senior member

    at my friend's studio yesterday he showed something I hadn't previously been aware of.

    Although he's using a fully-specced ProTools HD system he's sending his mics through a rather expensive small analogue mixer to apply pre-EQ before entering the digital domain.

    He says that some of his clients do the same, typically 2 dB at 10k and something similar at 1k. ( he uses a slightly different setting)

    He says that by doing so, the phase is altered and this gives the digital plugin EQ more to 'bite on' and hence makes it much more effective.

    What can anyone tell me about this, and if it does indeed make plug-in EQ more sensitive, can a similarly effective phase-tweaking be achieved in the digital domain?

    Apart from the built-in set of L9 plugins I have most of the Sonalksis suite.

    Seriously considering Altiverb after he showed me some of its games :)

  3. mattrixx

    mattrixx Senior member

    What's the "rather expensive small analogue mixer" in question here? There is no doubt that massaging a signal through nicely matched equipment will yield nice results, obviously after rigorous testing and experimentation. Depends on so many factors in the signal chain, not the least of which is the signal / talent being captured at a moment in time.
    The real art is in the forward thinking of how you should be capturing this picture. The tools are the paint.

    I have the utmost respect for those that have a mastery of such!
  4. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    If you like the sound of a specific hardware EQ it is a good idea to use it before the A/D conversion. You will hardly be able to recreate exactly this sound later in software. Sometimes the EQ doesn't do much and is just used to get this particular sound. An EQ and a compressor in the recording chain are not unusual, although many people tend to use only a compressor. Don't forget, if you do something wrong with the EQ, you can't get rid of it. It's in the raw recording.

    Sonalksis is ok, rather soft sounding. The EQ works very good, I don't like the interface. The dynamic EQ is a real problem solver. The API and Neve types from URS are also good and have a different sound. If you look for the best neutral EQs you can try Brainworx ('digital' and 'hybrid'), but they are more expensive. And the Logic Channel EQ of course, it is also good and neutral.

    Altiverb is a great convolution reverb. The basic question is, do you need a convolution reverb or an algorithmic reverb ot both? There is a difference. Convolution is good when you want to put something in a certain environment. But there is no time domain in the convolution, no modulation, it is static. A synthetic reverb works with the signal, it reacts to sound and volume changes in its unique manner.

    When we take your own playing as an example, you would rather want a synthetic reverb on your keyboard because it supports your dynamics. The whole band would go to a convolution reverb because you want it to play in a room. One may think it is a matter of taste but actually algorithmic and convolution reverbs are different worlds.

    I like Altverb very much, especially the Early reflections and the delays on earlies and tail. And it has presets I can understand and remember.

    Artsacoustic is a very good algorithmic reverb. Standalone it may sound a little unclear, but there are a couple of techniques which give you an excellent "living" reverb. I think only some expensive outboard reverbs can beat what this Artsacoustic reverb can do, if you use it in a certain way.

    I can only speak for me and I work almost exclusively on my own music, but for me the Artsacoustic and Altiverb are a perfect combination. Algorithmic reverb on single tracks and convolution on the whole thing or on parts where I want a static reverb.
  5. HKC

    HKC Senior member

    Obviously if you want more air or bite, adding a little 10KHz or 2KHz on the way in will give the digital EQs a less hard time so if that's what your friend means he certainly has a point.
    On the other hand, if you want to get rid off it again I can's say that I have ever found any benefit in adding it in the first place.
    I always record through analogue pre-amps and many times also compressors (light) because it just sits better in the mix I find and all the digital stuff sounds very natural.
    I didn't find that so much until I started to use really good hardware so buying a Behringer compressor won't give the sound of a 1969 Drawmer or a Distressor etc.
  6. zerobeat

    zerobeat Senior member

    The technique can have merit (applying analog processing before digitizing.... say, eq and/or compression) but his reasoning behind it is voodoo and cockeyed justification. The rule is: if it sounds good, it is good. It could be that that the eq he is applying just happens to sound good and is something he would have applied anyway in the digital domain but just happens to like the sound of his analog eqs better. Nothing wrong with that.

    I like tracking through a Drawmer 1960 Mercenary Edition. Colours galore. Then through Apogee convertors. Best sounding convertors I've heard and certainly not the most transparent.... as it should be (in my recording world).

    One can never achieve perfect fidelity to the real world so the next best thing is to colour the sound in such a way as to sound great to my ears.
  7. LSchefman

    LSchefman Senior member

    >>The technique can have merit (applying analog processing before digitizing.... say, eq and/or compression) but his reasoning behind it is voodoo and cockeyed justification. The rule is: if it sounds good, it is good.<<


    Incidentally, in addition to the Sonalksis and URS stuff (I also use these), the Waves API and JJP sets are highly recommended.
  8. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Fine, the remaining question is, "How do you make it sounding good?" ;)
  9. peterlemer

    peterlemer Senior member

    > What's the "rather expensive small analogue mixer" in question here?

    I believe it's a custom set of input channels designed by Cyril Jones ( Raindirk)

  10. peterlemer

    peterlemer Senior member

    great reply - very useful and snipped to my notes :)

    I wasn't sensitive to the distinction 'convolution', 'algorithmic' reverb - and your specific example ( me) brings it closer

    <doffs hat>

    Why would a time-modulated reverb work better for my keys, psychacoustically?
    Presumably we like reverb because it tells us about distances - and the natural effect would be more like convolution, no? ( waving hands about)

  11. peterlemer

    peterlemer Senior member

    > Obviously if you want more air or bite, adding a little 10KHz or 2KHz on the way in will > give the digital EQs a less hard time so if that's what your friend means he certainly
    > has a point.

    I think he meant more than that. It seemed that he was saying that by slightly screwing the phase, the digital EQs were effectively supercharged.

    I take your point about analogue pre-amps and will continue to plug straight into my RME until I can afford something that won't add it's own problems :)

  12. peterlemer

    peterlemer Senior member

    How to run Altiverb in L9, though? It's TDM only I think
  13. peterlemer

    peterlemer Senior member

    > the remaining question is, "How do you make it sounding good?"

    well, my friend has this trick where he passes incoming audio through eq at [....]
  14. musiclab

    musiclab Member

    Usually phase shift is to be avoided. The best reason to use eq on the way in is because you can't get the sound you were looking for with mic choice and placement. I've been engineering for 24+ years, I rarely employ eq on the way in, and usually I'm using eq in the mix to make things fit better. However I am a big believer in compressing quite a few things on the way in especially vocals.
  15. Markdvc

    Markdvc Administrator Staff Member

  16. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Reverb tells us also about the acoustic environment. A convolution reverb is made by recording a shot or sine sweep in a room. The resulting acoustic pattern, the "impulse response" gets applied to your music. So you get the pattern of a couple of speakers at a certain place in the room (they represent your players) and the sound recorded on a certain spot in the room (which is your listener position). If you want this – what you usually want for the whole mix – everything is fine.

    If you want to let a single instrument or a voice shine, a convolution reverb may not work really well. Early reflections are important and they depend on the position of the player. You don't have an impulse response from a sound source "close to audience but far right with a near wall", this was not recorded.

    And in real live a reverb is never the same, there are air movements, there are people or objects bending and partially absorbing the sound waves. There are changing reflections. Algorithmic reverbs try to imitate such effects with modulation.

    Of course you can modulate the convolution reverb also, before or after the reverb plugin. But this does not change the timing of the reverb "particles" because the pattern, the impulse response, is static. It is as it was at the time of recording.

    I think it is good is to use both, an algorithmic and a convolution reverb. None of them can do what the other can do. Algorithmic reverbs require more work because their presets are seldom exactly what you need and they have a lot of parameters to tweak.

    A good preamp would be the first step. Much more important than an EQ. RME is fine but their preamps are very clean. We talk about colouring, this is not all. A preamp with a nice sound is not necessarily the magic solution. I have one that is great for voice but disappointing with a nylon guitar. Another one is good for instruments but doesn't do much for voices.

    The sound source and the preamp must work together to get this personal touch on a voice or instrument. Texture of voice, singing technique, microphone, preamp. One chain. Electronic instrument, output stage of this instrument, preamp. Another chain.

    You can buy a preamp that works well on everything. But if you expect extraordinary sound, this preamp may be extraordinary expensive. In the lower price range they have their pros and cons, you need to select one that fits to your sound sources.
  17. musiclab

    musiclab Member

    API is high quality not horribly expensive gear, that works well on just about everything
  18. peterlemer

    peterlemer Senior member

  19. peterlemer

    peterlemer Senior member

    thanks again. what do you use as pre-amp for voice? And what mics while you're at it :)

  20. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Preamp: British :)
    DAV BG 9 (same as BG 1 but with a DI input instead of the second mic channel).
    And a DAV BG 6 compressor.
    The devices have unusual dimensions, they need more than 1 rack unit in height. The manufacturer (a former Decca technician) told me that the slits at the bottom of the case are thought to bolt the units to the floor or somewhere else. People seem to steal preamps in British studios.

    Two years ago I paid about 530 GBP for each unit. Although I have them for quite a while I cannot deliver a complete review. I have only voices, guitars and synthesizers to record. The DAV combo works good here on voices (always with compressor) and the DI input is excellent for clean electric guitar. I don't like the sound on nylon guitar, tried several mics but it gets somehow flat. Haven't tried steel strings and no other sources. Basic sound quality is good of course, the electronic circuit originates from Decca.


    If you are looking for an explicitly warm sounding preamp with a lot of gain (especially for ribbon mics) I can recommend the Pre-73 from Golden Age. It's a bargain, costs only around 250 GBP. 1 HU, half-rack (2 units fit on a 19" shelf).
    On the rear panel are XLR and TRS jackets for Mic and Line signals. External power supply. This is a low budget preamp that sounds like much more money. Due to the separate line inputs you can make a permanent cabling for reamping, for example to get more dramatic effects by overloading the amp (gain up and output down).

    This preamp sounds warm and is far from neutral. I haven't tried it yet for synths but can imagine that it adds power to a keyboard sound if the output stage of the keyboard is good. However, it has transformers and therefore delivers a solid bottom.


    Microphone: For voice I use a Rode K2, a tube mic. The price went dramatically down over the years and is now relatively low for this quality (~420 GBP). But it is a hard mic, you need a soft voice for it. Especially female voices with hard textures can get an "annoying touch".

    It is big and heavy, comes with a separate phantom power supply that also handles the pattern of the mic. Continuously from omni via cardioid to figure eight. With 815 gramme it wants a solid mic stand.

    Before the K2 I used an AKG C3000 for my voice. It was hard enough but could not deliver a defined low end (I am a quiet singer, well, actually I am no singer, I need help from the gear). The result with a TRION 8000 was not better, so the sheer existence of a tube is not all that counts. The K2 is perfect for me. And – important on quiet sources – it delivers very little hiss. This is untypical for tube gear, typical for Rode.

    Don't forget, soft source —> hard mic, or you'll get drowned in the swamp. Or hard source —> soft mic, otherwise the sound may get harsh or metallic. Always the opposite.
  21. peterlemer

    peterlemer Senior member

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